Tay Kheng Soon shares his thoughts with SIF’s Singapore magazine

“Designing for resilience,” by Kim Lee. Interview with Tay Kheng Soon. Singapore, Oct-Dec 2013. Read the article on the SIF webpage.

“Even as I acknowledge Singapore’s great administrative achievements, I regret the lack of internalised values. The streets are clean not because people take it upon themselves not to throw rubbish, but through punishments and employment of cheap labour to pick up the mess Singaporeans leave everywhere.

For self pride and identity to form, there must be belief in the goodness of people. This is a sea change from the dim view of human nature that underpins the rules, regulations, incentives and disincentives that make up everyday reality. Where to start? I suggest through the establishment of community-based enterprises and a new type of live-in schools.”


This article appeared in Today on 21 Oct 2013.

Shelob and Aragog – two large spiders undergraduates do remember

I never know which example I will spontaneously summon during a lecture as I have a decent memory for incidents and stories. Sometimes though, undergraduates have to help me out.

Flu-meds can addle my mind and a case in point was my drugged state at the recent LSM1103 Biodiversity lecture on arthropods. I decided to call up a scene of a giant spider from a popular movie I was pretty sure most undergraduates had seen – Harry Potter.

From my fogged mind, I painted a scene of Harry Potter waving a sword heroically at a large spider.

But, really, it was Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings.

Excitement erupted at my confusion and as I struggled with the spider’s name, the undergrads helpfully provided that it was Aragog, and not Aragon.

After the lecture I shared these clips on the class Facebook page to acknowledge the confusion I had been in – there are two spiders in two movies, Shelob the ancient giant spider which Samwise Gangee battles valiantly in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and the ageing acromantula Aragog in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

I love how the clips are available so easily to clarify. And spider do have a bad rep.

The point of mentioning any of this was for the biodiversity undergrads to realise they had actually seen chelicerate morphology depicted on the big screen. Armed with that knowledge of anatomy, they could now think of the ways to outwit a humoungous spider if it was out to get them.

Next time they watch the movies, they’ll think like biologists.

What I dream of on rainy, hungry days

This is from a nasi padang shop Lai Chee Kien introduced me to at Pasir Panjang Food Centre. I revisited a few times subsequently, zipping down from campus with some of my research students.

After a meal, the tour of the old seawall is necessary homage, where we look for brackish water organisms and enjoy the fig trees. Then we take the MRT, gawk at “Defiance has a name” and head back to NUS.

Simple pleasures, and we must find the time for this again.

2013 09 13 12 14 33

Managing NUS emails with GMail and Maliplane

My (16GB) mailbox is almost full?

NUS’ LargeMail provides staff with 16GB of space, how excellent is that? Thus when I began to received these messages below last year, and during the intense Semester I period of little sleep, I was perplexed!

Your mailbox is almost full.- Enterprise Vault Archived Item

It turns out that in reality, we only really have a Primary Mailbox size of 250Mb. The remaining 15.75 GB is in a secondary mailbox in Enterprise Vault!

I began receiving these messages once I exceeded 70% of the primary mailbox size, i.e. 170MB. That can just a be a few days worth mail during a period when I am actively exchanging pdfs and images. I also store lots of old emails for student issues or recommendations when I might need to retrieve emails going back a few years quickly.

On a PC, I think the integration of the Enterprise Vault client with the secondary mailbox is seamless. However for Mac users, it is quite another matter. Enterprise Vault is incompatible with Apple Mail and Microsoft Outlook for Mac – and I say this after trying a few things.

After exchanging an email or two with NUS Computer Centre, I realised the problem was not going to be solved.

Mailbox full, send mail blocked – Gmail to the rescue!

In August before my killer semester began, and now armed with a faster Mac Book Pro, I gave a it a last shot – I desperately moved some 20,000 emails out of Inbox folders.

Still no joy, and when I exceeded the 250MB limit, my mail was not being sent out! There was some confusion as to whether colleagues were getting responses for various issues. That was terrible.

Get started with IMAP and POP3 - Gmail Help

So I did what I should have done all along – I opened a Gmail account and POP-ed my exchange inbox. In fact, NUS Computer Centre has instructions for this! They really should suggest this early to Mac users suffering full exchange inboxes.

Problem solved. No more worries about large attachments either. People receiving mails from me still see my NUS exchange email address. And I have the more efficient google search for old emails. How wonderful!

Managing multiple Gmails accounts with Mailplane

I keep my NUS exchange account isolated from all other activities to prevent burying critical admin queries and student questions. So when I popped my NUS exchange emails, it was from a new Gmail account. The default space in a new Gmail account is 15GB, which is excellent!

My primary Gmail account is a much busier space, for it is where I handle my emails for volunteers, public education and conservation matters. For this account, I purchased an additional 20GB for US$5/year, so it is a 35GB account.

I also have separate accounts for International Coastal Cleanup Singapore, Raffles Museum Toddycats and short term projects such as workshops and festivals.

Gmail - N Sivasothi

To manage them all, I have been using Mailplane since 2007, which allows me to open simultaneous multiple windows for inboxes and calendars.

The result? Sanity and efficiency.

Next I need to suggest some of these solutions to my students!

Feeling hopeful about cycling in Singapore

Ten years ago, I blogged my thoughts about cycling in Singapore. There issues and small, hopeful signs of change.

In the past few years, I have seen the momentum on this issue build, and quite suddenly too.

Yesterday, I went to the 10-year old Cycling in Singapore blog to make a feeble stab at updating it with recent news. Instead I wrote a hopeful piece, “Cycling in Singapore is evolving, so expect joy and expect growing pains!

More than a decade of waiting has been frustrating of course, but we would have our fellow citizens to experience the joy of cycling and the relief from dense urban living. Of course the latter is partly why we are seeing this change.

I am certainly thankful for what is going on now.

It is still too dangerous to advocate cycling to NUS for newbies, but some alternatives are emerging. I can see safe routes gradually being integrated into our infrastructure. Yes it’ll be a long wait but shorter than what I as prepared for.

Or as another cycling advocate put it, in my lifetime please!

A lot of research has gone into city cycling over the decades which has become increasingly relevant as we crowd into cities all over the planet. The research has been illuminating and a book which summarises many ideas is “City Cycling,” edited by John Pucher & Ralph Buehler. MIT Press, Oct 2012 [Amazon link].

City Cycling book

We need to read more books like this, experience places which have implemented ideas in order to ride on the strengths of ideas, observations and techniques.

Thanks to Chu Wa for introducing this to me!

There is always a cat with my Mac

Many lament the loss of cat names for OS X, with Mavericks for 10.9 not half as exciting anymore. I’m not too concerned, since I have had Mr Bats since 2004 by the side of my Mac, and sometimes on it.

Mr Bats at my Mac

The table lamp was rustled up to avoid the glare of room’s fluorescent light on his eyes. And in the process I learnt it is a much better table lighting method for myself too.