Selective sync of Dropbox files on my MacBookAir

I am preparing for an annual form and function zoology session with International Biology Olympiad (IBO) students later but my LSM3261 Life Form and Function slides no longer reside on my MacBook Air’s hardisk. With the SSD hardisk at just a 500GB capacity, I have had to selectively sync files with my 1TB Dropbox Drive to keep some space free.

My missing Module Archive is one such folder.

There are two ways I can access the files from that absent folder. The first is to look it up on Dropbox and download the files I need:

Screenshot 58

It likely I will update the files, so it is easier to turn on selective sync with the relevant folder to have a copy on my MacBook Air’s hardisk which will update the cloud version effortlessly. So I took the following steps:

  1. Go to the Dropbox icon in the menu bar and select the gear icon at the bottom right, and then select “Preferences…” from the dropdown menu
  2. Select the “Account” icon at the top of the Preferences window which appears
  3. Select “Selective Sync”
  4. After a few seconds, my folder list appears and I selected the relevant folder, in this case, my 2015 IBO slides in “My Modules Archive > LSM3261 > 2014”
Selecting Dropbox’s preferences
Screenshot 65

Accessing “Selective Sync” in the Dropbox preferences menu
Screenshot 56

Turning on Selective Sync with just one folder in My Modules Archive
Screenshot 57

In a short while, the >2GB folder was waiting for me, nested within the “My Modules Archive” folder. Edits I introduce to the files, i.e. a 2016 IBO version of the slides, will sync with Dropbox, placing a copy on the cloud drive. When I turn off the Selective Sync later today, it will free up what would now be ~4 GB of space of the folder on my hardrive, until I access it again next year.

This has been a useful way to keep large archives on Dropbox without cluttering up my laptop’s SSD drive.

See Dropbox Help Centre’s “Use Selective Sync on your desktop“.


Have you been reading?

It seemed I had read just eight books in 2015, of which seven were non-fiction titles. A far cry from the voracious reading of my youth. Are we doomed to this decline?

The first National Literary Reading and Writing Survey by the National Arts Council found that 56% of the 1,000+ Singaporeans they sampled hadn’t read at least one “literary book” between March 2014 to March 2015 – these they defined to include fiction, poetry, graphic novels, creative non-fiction and the like (see the infographic below and read the links, for reasons).

I made the 44% cut due to the two graphic novels, Koh Hong Teng’s “Last Train from Tanjong Pagar” (fiction) and Jim Ottaviani’s “Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas” (creative non-fiction).

The bulk of my reading is scientific papers and book chapters, which are no substitute to for regular works with their attendant benefits. So I have been trying to maintain the habit. But I find I am hemmed in by work:

  • Late Jan – May: Sem 2 madness
  • Jun – early Jul (between Sem 2 & 1): some reading gets done here.
  • Aug – early Dec: Sem 1 madness
  • mid-Dec-early Jan (between Sem 1 & 2): usually one or two war history books in preparation for our annual walk in Feb to commemorate the Battle of Pasir Panjang

So how will I prevent neglect? Like other sleep-deprived Singaporeans, I must plan some breaks to allow my mind to breathe or else it will not happen.

So I began using Goodreads, and discovered friends struggling to do the same! I drop in once in awhile, vaguely aware of my 2016 reading challenge of 24 books.

Well, it’s May and I have managed six books. Dean Foster’s Star Wars book shouldn’t count, for it really was just the movie transcript, offering nothing new. Still, in the madness of May, I managed to read one of my neglected books. It seems keeping tabs is helping.

This June and July, the National Library Board will hold a two-month campaign to get more people to read. I look forward to being encouraged, will egg on my friends and look forward to exchanging stories!

Screenshot 40

Relevant articles:

  • What would it take to get Singaporean adults to read more? [link (CNA)]
  • Parliament: First National Reading Day to be held on July 30 to help nurture love of books [link (ST)]
  • Singaporeans have an interest in literary books – inaugural National Literary Reading and Writing Survey 2015 shows [link (NAC)]
  • Less than half of Singaporeans read literary books, National Arts Council survey finds [link (ST)]
  • Less than 50% read one literary book a year: Poll [link (ST)]
  • “Low reading rate: Lack of interest, time cited as factors” [link (ST)]

NRWS 2016 Infographic  Web

Discover Pulau Ubin during Pesta Ubin, 14 May – 12 June 2016!

“Pesta Ubin” is the 5th iteration of Ubin Day and offers a wonderful array of activities by more than 30 groups who enjoy nature, heritage, adventure and recreation activities on Pulau Ubin. Many events are offered free of charge to share the joy of this unique island with Singaporeans.

For more details, see the Pesta Ubin blog and facebook pages.

Pesta Ubin 2016

The festival starts on the 14th of May 2016 with a Chek Jawa boardwalk tour, a basic mountain-biking course, and an evening at the Wayang Stage, explorations of the western tip, a specialist heritage tour, and learning kampung cooking in a 100-year old kampung house! The truly marvellous array of activities continue until mid-June!

This festival is a ground-up exercise coordinated by WildSingapore which facilitates the offerings of various groups. A unique feature is a code of conduct the groups subscribe to, called the Ubin Way:

  1. Greet each other with a smile, a “Hello” or “How was your day on Pulau Ubin?” Respect the culture and get to know the people of Ubin, and each other.
  2. Do not litter – and pick up litter that we see. Bring it back to the mainland.
  3. Be gentle with wildlife – no balloons release, avoid noisy activities, be considerate during photography, don’t pluck plants or harm animals. At night, do not blind animals with the glare of strong lights.
  4. Minimise our footprint – avoid bottled water, styrofoam, plastic bags, useless freebies, pamphlets and single use items
  5. Encourage participants to patronise local businesses and share news about activities on the island.

To contribute an activity or volunteer, see the About page.

Fri 13 May 2016: 5.30pm – Briskwalk with the NUS Walking Club to Alexandra Arch

In collaboration with Office of Environment Sustainability (OES) and the Department of Biological Sciences (DBS), the University Health Service (UHS) initiated a Walking Club to encourage highly immobile desk-bound NUS staff to start walking for exercise, amidst the company of fellow staff members.

As Kent Ridge is part of the southern ridges, we are walking monthly and progressively towards Harbour Front. The third walk of about 5.1km will be held on Friday 13 May 2016: 5.30pm. It will begin at the UHS Carpark and reach Alexandra Arch (near Labrador Park MRT Station).

NUS Staff are invited to jin their colleagues for the walk.
To register,

Screenshot 36

Future walks will reach Henderson Waves and finally HarbourFront. For more details, please see the NUS Walking Club page:

Abandon your desks on Friday evening and join us!

Rice is a greater diabetes risk than sugary drinks

The Straits Times reports Health Promotion Board (HPB) chief executive Zee Yoong Kang highlighting Asians as being more predisposed to diabetes than Caucasians. People at risk may not be obese and starchy white rice spikes blood sugar levels and heighten the risk of diabetes.

Zee presented a meta-analysis of four major studies which showed that a plate of white rice eaten per day regularly raises diabetes risk by 11 per cent in the overall population. He suggests switching to long grain white rice and adding brown rice to white rice – “Just increase the quantity of whole grain and brown rice.”

This will be familiar advice to diabetics but the wider audience should be aware as non-obese individuals can be at risk too, and Singapore has a very high proportion of diabetics in its population. Most jobs immobilises us on a daily basis and lifestyle and diet changes are necessary to preempt diabetes. To learn more, see the HPB page on diabetes.

In a related article, Dr Annie Ling of HPB advised that “exercise is important in reducing the risk of getting diabetes. Just a 15- minute walk every day can cut the risk of dying of the condition by 4 per cent.”

In relation to this, we restarted the NUS Walking Club to help encourage daily activity amongst staffers by introducing walk routes and the camaraderie of walking together. We hope to increase the frequency from once a month to fortnightly sessions once exam grading is over.

More at The Straits Times.

Tan Chuan-Jin also highlighted this MOH webpage and flyer on Facebook.


18 years of server hosting with the Faculty of Science IT Unit ends in 2016!

In 1999, I attended a two hour html class at Faculty of Science’s CITA, conducted by Frederick H. Willeboordse and assisted by Keith Phua. Each of us in the class was setup with a personal server hosted by the Faculty of Science and I was taught a few common HTML commands and very importantly, FTP.

With hosting solved, I experimented with my site to gain confidence. Soon NUS was granting all my domain requests to setup several websites. Anything was possible, it was just a matter of having enough time. It was the Dropbox, Google Drive and WordPress of that time. Some highlights are reflected here.

Today, the cloud has eased the process incredibly and I am fascinated – last week, from the bus, and with just my handphone, I was able to send my student’s theses to a colleague minutes after he emailed!

Well, today, I received the email I had been warned about – the Faculty of Science IT Unit (ITU) will cease its web hosting service from 31 Oct 2016!

So the probable plan off the top of my head is:

  1. – likely merge with the existing Critical pages are already have subdomains, so I will update those.
  2. – shift some material to LKCNHM webpage or a subdirectory in
  3. (aka – shift to external host
  4. – subdirectory in
  5. – subdirectory in
    • blog content to or wordpress
    • html pages to subdirectory in
  7. – (is setup, just populate)

It is going to be tough, so I imagine I’ll go slow and steady:

  1. Update my local backups to be ready for transfer (mostly done).
  2. Find out about domain mapping to new host.
  3. Minor housekeeping to see what can be archived as pdfs into an indexed Dropbox folder.
  4. Shift the html pages, especially the guidebooks, magazines and bibliographies to the new server.
  5. Shifting the Habitatnews (2003-2016) blog posts will be tough and will have to queue with Raffles Museum News II (2004–2007) project. Defunct image hosting servers like Skitch caused the most trouble,sigh!

I will try to get some help, and have some fun with this. There is still lots of precious information in there.

It was inevitable this day would come and it has happened later rather than sooner – thanks to the Faculty of Science, and especially Keith Phua, for 18 years of internet freedom!

MailMerge a pdf book of abstracts from submitted project titles and abstracts

NewImageIn modules LSM1303 Animal Behaviour, LSM2251 Ecology and the Environment and GEM1917 Understanding & Critiquing Sustainability, students present project results in a symposia. A pdf book of abstracts is prepared for use during the symposia from title and abstracts recruited earlier using a Google Form.

I allow students very close deadlines, such as the Sunday before a Monday symposium, even if some editorial work is required! This is because the pdf book of abstracts can be generated in minutes, based on student submissions through a Google Forms document. Once the deadline is reached, an Excel version of the Google Forms responses is downloaded and processed.

I have been using the Mail Merge > Catalog function in Word 2011 for Mac to do this, but need to teach others to do this. It is likely that some will be using Word 2016 for Mac, and when I took look, it wasn’t all that straightforward. Online resources helped me figure it out, so I’m listing the steps here for my friends, and also for myself, for the next time I prepare this.

  1. Download the Google Forms data as an Excel File and ensure the following field are available:
    • Group Number
    • Full name of person submitting abstract
    • Project Title
    • Project Abstract
  2. Verify the group number using Excel’s VLOOKUP against the module database of group members and project numbers (overcomes submission mistakes)
  3. Use Excel’s VLOOKUP to extract the proper full names of all group members from the module database
  4. Close the Excel file of abstracts
  5. Open a new document in Word 2016 for Mac, and select the “Mailings” ribbon
  6. Select Start Mail Merge > Directory (this provides a continuos flow of records for the book of abstracts, instead of section breaks between records in a letter mail merge)
  7. Start Mail Merge > Directory – to obtain a continuous flow of text
  8. Select Recipients > Use An Existing List… (select the excel file of abstracts)
  9. Select Recipients > Use an Existing List… – select your Excel file of abstracts

    Selecting my Excel file of abstracts

  10. You will be warned to only open a known file, and prompted to open the workbook
  11. Use “Insert Merge Field” to build the output document template, by inserting text and fields. e.g. Group No. «Group_Number»: – inserts the words, “Group No.” before the point at which the number is inserted.
  12. Apply formatting as needed (e.g. bold, change font size)
  13. Appearance of the Mail Merge template, after inserting text and fields
    Screenshot 23

  14. Specify the Merge Range (if the workbook range was not restricted, specify a range to prevent junk at the end of file. E.g. a range of 1 to 40 if there are not more than 40 records (groups)
  15. Finish and Merge > Edit Individual Documents…
  16. Save the Word document, edit as wanted and print as a PDF

The book of abstracts took minutes to generate. You’re on your own for editing, though!Screenshot 24

After using the Mailings ribbon in Word for Mac 2016, I realise the buttons are arranged logically for the task. And instead of “Catalog” what I was wanting was a “Directory”. So once the teething blues are over (and the angst online from 2015 mostly reflects this, I suspect), I’m back in business!

It is a useful practise to only edit submissions at the source, i.e. in the Excel file. If improved abstracts are invited (through a Google Form), or a second round of editing is exercised by a colleague, the new pdf can be quickly generated by the Word template, and the entire outout be cut and paste into a webpage (see Sustainability Symposium in Singapore).

Efficiency means lecturers can maximise the time available to students to write their abstract, which naturally improves significantly, the closer they get to their presentation date. It isn’t easy writing an abstract and further analysis of fresh work will introduce refinements. This applies to participants at higher level symposia too. Since generating the abstract booklet is fast, I always afford speakers the opportunity to provide revised abstracts right up to the day they speak, so that the permanent record on the web is the best possible version they could have wanted.

So the same techniques will be applied at the 13th International Otter Congress, 3rd – 8th July 2016 in Singapore.