Recovering the museum’s first blog, Raffles Museum News II (2004-2007)

From Jun 2004 to Jul 2007, I published some 400 posts on Raffles Museum News. Institutional blogging was not popular a decade ago so this was one of the first natural history blogs in the world! News was in abundance, and the struggle was just about having the time to write. Still, at some three posts a week, I think that was pretty good for the intense work rate at the time.

Raffles Museum News II

I started blogging in 2003, when my Mac Addict friend Bernard Teo introduced me to Samizdat, a blog platform he modified from phposxom. I was happy with the engine and used it for my first personal blog Otterman speaks.. and the natural history blog, Habitatnews.

Only Habitatnews survives as functional relic of Samizdat – which I love too much to give up!

In 2007, I shifted my personal blog to WordPress as it was easier to use with the blogging tool MarsEdit. Happy with the feel, I created the third Raffles Museum News there (, before I left the museum, so that multiple users could take over the site. The museum blog would shift one more time in 2014 with the name change of the museum to

Although the first museum blog was no longer being updated, it served as a repository of the old posts. So we tried shifting the blog to the new domain, but all the date and time stamps were messed up! Then recently I was told the site posed a vulnerability to the new museum server and I removed it the same day.

That first Raffles Museum News had reported many interesting events, visitors, activities and animal encounters, so it would be great to have the posts available somewhere. Well, where else but WordPress? So last night I registered and tried out a file from 2006:

Edit Post  Raffles Museum News II  2004  2007  WordPress

The text file contained the date of the post and I had to recover and embed the images, but it looks fine. I will restore the images to their original larger sizes as they were mostly 600 pixels in width. Well, I can tweak the template later. For now, I have a working model!

417 articles, 609 images and 34 pdfs were obtained from the museum server in these categories:

  1. bejc – 24 articles
  2. dinosaurs – 15 articles
  3. education – 64 articles
  4. linnaeus300 – 5 articles
  5. media – 7 articles
  6. meetings – 13 articles
  7. museums – 9 articles
  8. news – 41 articles
  9. people – 27 articles
  10. pub – 42 articles
  11. research – 27 articles
  12. resources – 15 articles
  13. southeastasia – 7 articles
  14. talks – 20 articles
  15. toddycats – 40 articles
  16. visitors – 62 articles

I am resisting the desire to do this all myself and let the interns handle it. It will require care and accuracy but a workflow should take care of that. The interns will imbibe the content in the process and gain a feel for things which influence present activity.

They just have to handle everything with tender loving care!

2015 02 25 14 26 14
NUS Toddycats SG50 Interns struggling to think of a verification procedure!

Blogging on NUS’ facebook, “The Change is Me”

This year, the NUS Admissions Publicity Campaign has picked the theme, “The Change is Me”. I was asked to contribute by blogging once a week from now until May 2012 at the NUS facebook page.

I was first asked in December 2011 and given a nudge two days ago to have my first post up before the 15th of February 2012. I was busy with World War II remembrance ceremonies and visits so just like my undergrads and their assignments, it was the night of the 14th when I sat down to write. Before midnight, I had shared about the heritage walk the Kent Ridge/Pasir Panjang Guides had led on Sunday from NUS to Bukit Chandu.

National University of Singapore

I actually write to a content management system whose output is embedded to the NUS Facebook page. So I can pen a post in my desktop blog editor, MarsEdit, save drafts to WordPress which can be accessed on my iPhone (jes sayin’), and eventually copy and paste the html over to the CMS system.

I guess I will archive those posts on this blog too so I don’t lose them. It’s nice to be able to look back.

Well a large part of the exercise is NUS Open House 2012 when prospective students get to check out the campus, talk to some flesh and blood here and attend talks and poke and prod the wildlife here which will includes yours truly this year!

You see, a week ago I was informed by the powers that be, who maintain a sharp eye on these things, that my name had turned up on the roster for Academic Advisors duty at NUS Open House 2012.

So I get to meet students on the morning of Saturday 17th March 2012 at the Sports and Recreation Centre. I have already booked the date and look forward to meeting new students. I will have to bone up on the multitude of variations in course offerings before that which tends to be an eye opener.

It looks like I will be in the pink corner. And apparently I am to be friendly.

NUS Open House 2012 - the Change is Me : 17 & 18 March Sat & Sun

The last time I had duty, I read everything official, then asked questions of my department’s admin staff – they know EVERYTHING. Which is probably why they have FULL DAY duty at the Open House unlike the acads’ half-day duty slots.

Then I talked to my research undergrads and Raffles Museum Toddycats undergraduate volunteers to ground truth me – they know exactly how things pan out and what incoming students need to be alert about.

By the time I master all of that information, I may as well volunteer to give talks at JCs about Life Sciences @ NUS.

There you go, I just painted a bull’s eye on my head. I’ll go pick up an arrow and stick in my head next week.

NUS Open House 2012 - the Change is Me : 17 & 18 March Sat & Sun

How fast can you blog?

See Slacker David sneak out the MW5201 Science Communication class!

Sent from my iPhone

This post was put up as a demonstration of the ease of blogging these days at the MW5201 Topics in Science Communications class. While talking, I used my iPhone to grab an image and emailed it to Posterous. It was published there then automatically duplicated onto this WordPress blog, while the title appears on twitter and Facebook.

Interestingly, Yasmeen from the first batch of this course twittered immediately to say,

“Wow…that many students now in that class?”

She had only four classmates.

When we learnt about Posterous in 2008, Kenneth Pinto (@acroamatic) emailed to very aptly say, “Anyone who can email can now blog”.

After exploring its ability to handle a slew of images, mp3s, comments and pdfs, I dumped my “how to blog” workshop instruction set for the single act of emailing Posterous. Posterous has since moved from strength to strength and can now jump over tall buildings in a single leap. But it was its elegant ability to get you blogging with minimum fuss is still at its core.

Last night I realised with a start, that with a smart phone, it had become even easier!

Now that technology is essentially out of the way, everyone is back to square one – figuring out what to say.

Perhaps chewing the end of the pencil might help.

Grappling with blogging

I have always had some inclination to communicate. So before the internet, there were articles in print. About a decade ago, Ria Tan of WildSingapore scanned and posted my undergraduate student articles up on the net for me.”Principally the Mudskipper,” are articles between 1987 to 1994. These were limited to one or a few articles per year, before the internet became common place.

A writer’s potential output skyrocketed with blogging. Ironically this ease meant blogging, which requires regularity to maintain a conversation, was a boon that threatened to become a burden! Walter, who blogs over at Cooler Insights, says he does struggle to keep up his momentum. This morning he posted “Who Says Blogging Is Easy?” and in an email to his fellow social media junkies, asks “what motivates and drives us to continue generating content online?”

Ignoring the issue of images and videos, I suggested that my reasons to keep blogging have been:

  • primarily to share useful information (for others)
  • enjoyment of writing, reflection or reminiscence (for self)
  • contribute to the conversation (for both)

When I switched to this wordpress site in 2008, I wrote this:

“I hardly blogged this past month, but I found myself searching my blog for various bits of information. I have also had to point students and non-blog reading friends to specific posts for purposes of both work and play. A journal of events, links, alerts and information is pretty useful and cannot be adequately replaced just by jaiku [read twitter], and flickr.”

What discourages me from blogging:

  • length of time it takes to construct a post
  • lack of comments, linking (declined now that fewer people blog)
  • too many blogs to maintain
  • in a perpetual state having numerous unfinished tasks
  • forgetting why I blog
  • forgetting that my view can still be of interest, even about a well-flogged topic
  • the seduction of twitter w/export to facebook where I need say less, more quickly and receive instantaneous feedback!

What encourages me to blog

  • need to communcate
  • archiving argument or instruction to point people to later.
  • comments or citations/links from others
  • that school student who tells me they read something I wrote
  • finding an old post useful during a technical discussion
  • inadequacy of Twitter’s constraints
  • being able to stimulate the community

I did suffer a decline in blogging in 2008/9. Realising its value, I picked up the pieces at a much slower pace. I learnt to file away drafts and complete them in short spurts over a longer time. It is actually a treat to write on a quiet morning, rare as they might be.

I do get encouragement from meta blogs – Ria Tan highlights nature-related posts in Wild Singapore News and posts of reasonable relevance to the general Singapore scene can get picked up by The Singapore Daily and SingaporeSurf

Now that more (non-rss reading) people are appearing and communicating in the less anonymous space of Facebook, Feedburner has revived its relevance by enabling automatic twittering of its rss feed. I.e. new blog post titles and links from all my blogs appear on twitter and then get reposted to facebook. Thus a new post reaches rss and blog readers as well as twitter followers and facebook friends – all of them are a click away from new posts of interest.

The bloggers out there I interact with have provided a rich tapestry of information, comments, view points and ideas. And having experienced printing my undergraduate student society’s newsletter on an offset machine, I remain fascinated by the effortless manner in which crisp, well formed text appears on an lcd screen!

I guess I’ll always blog.

Blog to Print

Science blogger Ed Yong of “Not Exactly Rocket Science” has made the transition from blog to print, with a collection of 80+ of his posts. [link]

He writes well and is using self-publishing site to distribute the book. I did tell him I’d buy it if he published and so I have.

Changes in ‘A’ level biology

Brandon Seah penned a comprehensive reflection of his ‘A’ level biology experience in April 2007 which was a timely read for myself— I would switch to full-time teaching a few months later, and one of my larger classes was half the first year life science cohort (the other half are taught by a colleague in semester 2) whose wuld have graduated off that syllabus.

A few days ago, ‘A’ level student Warren Tan posted a comment to the post with an update. Hop over to The Biology Refugia to see what he had to say. Warren blogs at The Warren which has many interesting reflections about the paper chase of a JC student. I tagged it for after I get through my current flood of marking.

As is my practise, I do maintenance on my various blogs in a random schedule and Warren’s comment had me look into The Biology Refugia, which has Danwei holding the fort solo recently with the rest of us slacking away. Thankfully, in Singapore there are a couple more biology blogs — FreshBrainz (see his summary of a very reflection by “Bruce Alberts At The Biopolis”) and Rat in the Lab (see his “Twelve ways of making your FYP supervisor happy”.

I met a blogger once

When I first started reading and following blogs, many writers were uncomfortable about revealing their identities, writing semi-privately, and even disguising critical phrases from search engines.

However, if you followed a writer long enough, they’ll slip. Not that readers like me were trying to find them out, but it was hard to prevent the wonderfully effective subconscious from piecing together fragments over time.

One time, I posted a notice in my old blog about an attempt to roundup stray cats. I received a query from a reporter within minutes and realised the reporter was reading my blog. The incident was resolved without a story though but I guess it was just one more fragment.

A year or two later, a reporter I had just filled during an exhibition launch turned away to head for an individual I had pointed out. In that instant, I inadvertently blurted out the name of the blog. A startled grin rewarded me – the timing had been perfect to catch the blogger off guard. It was not my intention to do so. Just that the old subconscious had been putting pieces together – an unaccounted familiarity, style and manner of talking (related to the writing style); all this had been crystalised by the view of that turning angle which must have been used in some image once.

I suppose Singapore being a really miniscule place helped, of course.

I’ve been more conscientious about guarding against fragments since but its really not up to me!