Making Light of Things

August 2008 Archives

A New Way to Fly

Based on Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht’s recommendation on Diggnation, I chose to fly Virgin America from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The price is extremely competitive even when placed beside the more nefarious airlines like US Airways and American Airlines, who slip in hidden fees for checked baggage and even plain water.

But the experience of flying on Virgin America is unlike anything I’ve ever been on. And I’ve flown quite a bit.

The first hint that Richard Branson’s airline is unique came even before stepping on the plane. The sign that tells passengers to check in oversized luggage read:

Love your bag. Let it ride with bags its own size.

Personal, humourous and human. I like Virgin already.

SF to LA on Virgin AmericaStepping into the plane was like stepping into the club. The lighting was a psychedelic purple and a large glass panel framed the entrance from the front row of seats. I half-expected bottles of krystal cristal (thanks Min) to be handed out.

The macbook white panels around the large touchscreen LCDs were extremely luxurious. I couldn’t find episodes of Diggnation and had to settle on CNN Live. Unlike any plane I’ve ever flown on, Virgin’s flight entertainment system starts the moment you plonk on your seat. The headphone jack is also standard, allowing you to plug in your own earphones should you decide not to use the ones provided. I really wish other airlines will follow suit.

The flight was excellent, and staffed by extremely professional employees who really projected themselves as a cohesive team. I had to change my flight, which cost me a pretty buck, and the Virgin employee helping me over the phone provided one of the best on-phone experiences I’ve ever had. He was informative and efficient. While I don’t perceive myself as one biased towards foreign accents (I’m not American), I felt valued as a customer knowing Virgin didn’t outsource the call management.

I would definitely recommend flying Virgin wherever available. Where many carriers are keen on giving us less, Virgin has provided more than I expected from a short domestic flight.



Faith did a great job sleep-training the kiddos while I was away. Caleb now pretty much sleeps through the night, but the amazing thing is now Anne goes to sleep without needing us in the room. She actually tells us to leave while she settles herself to bed. We don’t know what goes on in the bedroom, but the scene in the morning is normally one of hilarity.

On a normal morning, we’ll find Anne sleeping in the midst of what looks like a disaster zone. Pillows strewn around and the rolled up mattresses toppled over. These nights I kiss her goodnight then topple the mattresses so she doesn’t have to get out of bed to do it. Just yesterday night we went in to see her fast asleep wearing a pillow-case like a crown. It reminded me of the time when she was a baby in the pram, and the youths at church put a makeshift hat on her that made her look like the Pope.

After a day at work, my normal home routine consists of getting everyone fed, bathing Anne and reading her bedtime stories before tucking her to bed. Faith makes sure fat boy there loads up on lactose before heading off to his night-long (hopefully) voyage into slumberland. It’s only after everyone’s tucked in when we sit beside each other, like comrades after a hard day’s work. The company is great, and tonight we had vanilla ice cream.

The awkward moment of the night came when Anne popped out of the bedroom to pass Faith her blanket and caught sight of our little tub of sin.

“What’s that?”, she asks, knowing exactly what she saw.

Faith and I felt like we did a million moons ago, teenagers sitting in front of the television while her parents popped in every now and then to make sure we weren’t engaged in some forbidden activities like holding hands.

We ‘fess up, offer her a spoonful of ice-cream. She skips back to bed. I tuck her in again and kiss her goodnight.

She doesn’t speak; mouthful of ice-cream, and savouring every last melting drop.

Point of No Return

Many of you who have been reading Tribolum for some time have probably read how I’ve railed against the government for this thing and that. It has been an interesting journey towards the realisation that I’ve been a civil servant for what, 3 years now.

I do not think I’ve compromised on some of the things I believe in, like guarding against our nation’s tendency towards an elitist-everyone-else class structure, or that the government should be held under greater independent scrutiny. But I will admit that working here has changed me somewhat, and I hope that those of you who know me, I mean really know me, will keep me in check. Help me continue to fight to better things for everyone, especially in my specialised scope of online services.

In the grander perspective of things, I’ve changed as well. Where once I’d snigger about how Singapore’s Olympic Silver medalists are all foreign imports, I now realise that they have every right to be as Singaporean as I am. Being born in a country doesn’t make me more worthy of her; it is the willingness to identify with her shared destiny, to partake in her victories and her failures. To actively participate in making her the best she can be. It is far too easy to ask others to step up and then blame the government if no one does.

I’ve met many in the government who truly want to change things for the better and deserve more than armchair criticism. They, like our fellow Singaporean paddlers, need support.

Not all paths are smooth, some are rough but well worth the travel.

Big Ideas from Small Businesses

Today’s keynote from George Wright, Vice-President Marketing and Sales at Blendtec, who brought us the unforgettable answer to the question, will it blend?

Their most famous blend, an iPhone:

What I didn’t know was they sold the blended iPhone on eBay for around $1000 and donated it to a children’s hospital.

Anyway, I digress.

Continue reading Big Ideas from Small Businesses »

Real Authentic Fare

Gary Vaynerchuk at New Media Expo 2008

Gary Vaynerchuk’s keynote at the New Media Expo here in Las Vegas wasn’t particularly illuminating, but reiterated the principles which we all know.

People want authentic content. Consumers are tired of corporate speak. They are tired of companies and organisations spamming them with perfectly edited copies and hiding behind a mask of disconnectedness. “Why else do they watch reality TV?”, Gary hammers home, almost shouting.

Points he brought up:

Free Circus

Watched KA by Cirque du Soleil at the MGM Grand a few moments ago. I wanted to just pop by the theatre to see if they had any offers for tickets that came available due to last minute cancellations. I stood last in a pretty long “Stand by” line, and I overheard the counter staff say that the show was sold out.

Then they asked if there were any single individuals waiting in line. 3 of us put up our hands and the first guy got to purchase that open ticket. Then a young man came up to me and said “I have a ticket”. I asked him how much it was, but he said he’d give it to me for free. He was part of a bachelor party, he explained. Why he couldn’t watch the show was still unexplained to me. He told me to say hi to his friends already in the theatre, which I did.

And that’s how I got the $170 ticket for free.

The show? Well, I think I need to watch shows that actually use language. All the interpretive moments are really lost on me. The only thing that impressed me was the athleticism and coordination of the performers.

Falling in Sunset

Tucson Sunset

Fireworks. Every single night.

There was a thunderstorm behind me, which I totally failed to capture because I couldn’t find a good vantage point. The ranger chased me out of the one good place I found.

Man and Machine

Many airlines in the United states have moved towards installing self-serve automated check-in machines directly in front of their counters at the airport. A small number of airline staff would be positioned behind these machines to handle the checking in of luggage, specifically the attaching of the sticky tag and then passing you the baggage claim stub.

While these machines means more service points for passengers needing a check-in, it has created a mess at the more crowded airports (namely LAX where I flew out of) as most passengers standing in line wait for the two or three counter staff to attend to them, rather than moving in to use the machines.

Is this a case of user education, or is it a process problem?

The check-in process, from the perspective of the airline, is fairly standard. From the passenger point of view, it is vastly different. They are likely to think of their needs as non-standard. They may not read English, have small children, be wheelchair-bound, or are simply uncomfortable using the touchscreen interface that frankly, needs to be improved.

The largest obstacle I see is that of checking in one’s luggage. Nowhere have I seen a single sign saying how check-in luggage is addressed. Common-sense on the part of the passenger would lead them to deduce that the automated check-in counters do not handle the checking-in of luggage, as it would constitute a grave security risk, not to mention the possibility of them losing their luggage and unable to place that responsibility on someone actually paid to handle these things.

Perhaps it takes a while for passengers to warm up to the idea of helping themselves to the machines, but the path of least resistance definitely goes through the airline staff. It is the established method of checking yourself in.

Instead, I find myself at Tucson International’s Southwest Airlines counter, checking myself and my luggage at the machine while the two counter staff chat with each other directly in front of me because there is no one else in line. It feels like I’m not being attended to. Or that they’re not doing their jobs. But this is the new process which creates a negative customer experience.

Maybe a human-first, machine as backup process of checking people in?

Stepping Back

Maybe Faith is right in that there seems to be a need within me to be alone.

Here, thousands of miles away in Tucson, I retrace the steps I took in college while watching videos of Anne and Caleb on Flickr. It has given me time to fully appreciate where God has taken me. His blessings are truly more than anything I could have dreamed up or wanted.

I spent most of yesterday visiting my old haunts in School. Where I watched my first basketball game, my first viewing of a planetary object, my first hail storm…Tucson has been a place of many firsts.

Many things have changed here. The university has become a little more commercial and less bohemian. Classrooms are named after corporate sponsors. Open fields are not entrances to underground computer labs. Again I’m confronted with the reality that things change. Nothing is ever the same.

Dinner with Jonathan Louie last night reminded me of how long I had been gone. Mutual friends have gotten married, some are new parents. Many of moved to other cities. Teenagers I knew have graduated from college. I, too have changed. I’m a husband and a father. I’m coming to grips that I’m a public servant, and it’s time to change what that means, rather than shudder at the thought of what it connotes.

It’s been a good time to rethink things.

Flight on Singapore Airlines 38

I’ve flown the Singapore-United States route quite a bit. After my first near-death experience flying Garuda, I grew wiser to the fact that some things are worth paying a little extra for. Yes I’m probably exaggerating, but during the Garuda flight we were all unsure if the plane would take off in one piece. Plus it took 30 hours to get to LA, by which time a quarter of our family vacation was over.

My preference is towards our own Singapore Airlines, and this time round I had the opportunity to fly the non-stop executive economy flight to LA, SQ38 out of Terminal 3. A short exploration of Terminal 3 revealed a free movie theatre! I sat there waiting for my flight while watching Hilary Swank in a movie I’ve never seen.

Singapore Airlines impresses. After liftoff we had Doritos with sundried tomato dip. I had a Singapore Sling and a cup of pineapple juice. It was my first time tasting a Singapore Sling…nice!

On SQ38

There’s something magical about flights. The lights are dimmed. Everything you need is in that small enclosed space. It’s probably why a lot of people hate flying. I wouldn’t take a longer flight than I have to, but the feeling of heading towards a destination different from where you came adds that little electricity in the air.

Away from

I’ll be out of town for a bit. Will be attending the New Media Expo at Las Vegas, followed by An Event Apart in San Francisco.

Meet up, anyone?


We’re watching the Olympics and Anne says,

“Mummy and Daddy, do you know something?”

“What is it, Anne?”

“The whole world is good.”

Wow. My 3 year old has a better grasp of the Olympics than many adults.

We the People of Singapore

It discourages me immensely whenever I read comments from our politicians that conveys Singapore’s “vulnerability”. Just today I read our Prime Minister’s comments that the aspirations of Singapore would “disappear like Cinderella’s coach at midnight” were it not for the strength of our military defense.

Revoltingly ugly analogy aside, he is right of course. Our military has an important role in the security of our nation, and taking it for granted is a sure way to lose everything we have.

It wasn’t too long ago when Minister Mentor - the Prime Minister’s father - reiterated his opinion on how Singapore would lose everything in 5 years if we were dealt a dose of bad government.

Again, it’s highly possible of course. Anyone would be a fool to dispute these broad sweeping and ill-defined (how “bad” is bad government?) statements.

But what of us? The Singapore people? The ones who slog it out day after day. The hawker, the taxi driver, the road sweeper, the Shenton Way executive. Did we not do our part to build Singapore? Was our success solely the work of good government? Surely the people of Singapore had something to do with it.

Let’s get this straight. While many of us did not elect the current government, we chose the current government. We allowed the walkovers. We entrusted them with the running of the nation, and continue to do so. They’ve done a decent job, and we recognise that.

So dear politicians, please remember that we hired you. We pay your wages, even though we think they’re a little over the top. We have given you the opportunity to serve us.

You’ve done a fine job.

I speak for myself, because I’m not sure the rest of the Singaporeans mind, when I ask that our politicians be a little less condescending. I am grateful for what we’ve achieved and for good governance, but I hope this National Day that the men and women in white put aside the wall that divides government and people, acknowledging that they are citizen first and politician second.

That the people of Singapore will outlast political parties. That we are made of sterner stuff than our own government has given us credit for.

Surviving the Asian financial crisis? That was us. SARS? We were there too.

Our largest vulnerability isn’t racial tension, terrorism or bad government. It’s our dependence on the government for everything. What we should do with our lives (life sciences, engineering etc), how many children we should have and whether we should outsource their upbringing.

We need to realise that we, the citizens of Singapore, are one united people. Our government - our representative servant-citizens - ought to help us see that we aren’t a flaccid, spineless people, even if it means we become less dependent on them.

I wish so much for the you to realise that you have strength within yourself, Singapore. To persevere, to survive, to change the world for the better.

Happy birthday.

Well and Sick

It’s been a little tough these few days as Anne and Faith succumbed to a particularly nasty flu virus. They’re still hacking away, but at least they’re not as miserable as when they first fell sick.

It’s been a milestone for Caleb, who spent 2 nights over at my parents - his first ever “away from home” experience. Anne’s first night away from us was Caleb’s birth, and oh what a painful experience that was! We’re learning to be a little more pragmatic with Caleb and he’s responded splendidly. He slept through the entire night last night. We truly thank God for these little pockets of grace.

Ok, Anne’s bugging me to play with her now. I’ll see you guys in a few.

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