“Hi, mrbrown, the Japanese Cabinet wants to invite you to an event.”
I was like, what cabinet? Ikea one ah? But no, it was really the Japanese government inviting me to attend a panel entitled “Threats vs Technology: Building Resilient Nations & Businesses”.
So on the 27th of February, off I went to the Shangri-la to listen to experts talk about the state of Japan’s disaster management and the technologies that Japan has deployed to mitigate some of these natural disasters.
After a message from Mr Yusuke Arai, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan, Singapore, the panel discussion, Threats vs Technology, began.
The main panel discussion consisted of Dr. Ayesha Khanna, Co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI, Mr Riki Kitagawa, Co-Founder and CEO of WOTA (they are water treatment experts), Dr. Shunichi Koshimura, Professor at Tohoku University (who is an expert on tsunami risk assessment and mitigation efforts) and Ms Lauren Sorkin, Managing Director of 100 Resilient Cities (specialist in environment management).
It was a lively discussion, and I enjoyed the exchange. Disasters like the Hokkaido earthquake in September of 2018, showed that Japan is ready to tackle these disasters with technology and the will of a resilient people, ready to respond at the local and national level.
Actually, I was in Japan in September 2018, just after the earthquake happened. I went to Sado Island on that trip. Hokkaido was still recovering from the earthquake, and trying to restore their power lines and train lines, and ensuring the safety of the residents there. What struck me when I was there in September, was how quickly the country responded to the situation and how tough and resilient their people are. Every day, I watched the news and read reports, and I was following the developments in Hokkaido in-country.
Professor Shunichi Koshimura said that with Quantum computing, more robust communications, precise positioning GPS, and an automated driving system, may one day allow future scenarios where you don’t just run for the hills in the event of a tsunami, but you just need to get to your car and the ADS will take you to the safest place. That was a fascinating prospect to me.
At the event, I saw some of the technology used for disaster relief, like the Cyberdyne suits and WOTA water tech.
Cyberdyne makes suits that allow relief workers to carry heavy objects like rocks and debris, while providing support to the person’s back. I tried the suit on, and you can really hear the motors moving as I walked and squatted. It was the first time I felt like a cyborg. I cracked a joke with the staff at the Cyberdyne booth and said, “You know this is a Terminator-related name you have, right?”
They laughed and said they were aware of the link, and they joke about it themselves all the time.
The suit itself is called HAL. Somebody has a cheeky sense of humour in this company.
You can see how it works in this video I made at the event:
The Cyberdyne suit is also useful to help old people recover from surgery and strengthen their body. I would like to see my aging mom wear the suit, she would climb stairs like a Terminator, I bet. She is already a Sarah Connor inside. Tough as nails.
The WOTA water recycling technology is another fascinating thing to behold. As Singaporeans who have to get water from our neighbours and who drink our own recycled pee, any kind of water recycling technology is interesting to us. WOTA has these machines that are like portable showers. 100 litres of water can be cleaned and recycled so that you can provide showers to many people with just one portable shower unit. So in a disaster, this portable shower will be deployed so that displaced people have access to hygiene and showers.
I wanted to try the shower out myself, but forgot to bring a towel. Also, I think the hotel would not be too pleased with me getting their carpet wet.
The panel also dwelled on the threat of Cyber Attacks. Now, Singapore is very familiar with this. We were hit by the SingHealth cyber attack not long ago, and the threats are real. These threats will come from even state-sponsored players. So much so, that Digital Defence is now the sixth pillar of our Total Defence strategy.
Ms Lauren Sorkin of 100 Resilient Cities said that cyber attacks have gone up 10% in the last year, in cities. For example, she said that Rotterdam was one of the cities who wanted to know: what is the cyber risk in their ports? A cyber attack can cripple their key economic driver, and Singapore is also well-aware of this threat.
As Singapore strives to be a Smart City, we also need to ensure our people, like the Japanese, know how to respond to national disasters, be it in the natural realm or digital realm.
Dr Ayesha Khanna of ADDO AI pointed out that in many cases, people were not sure how to respond to disasters. For example, the SingHealth leak was a lesson in processes and people. It’s more than just about technology. A three-pronged approach is needed: Technology, People and Processes.
Cape Town in Africa almost caught off-guard with their Day Zero disaster when they ran out of water. But they avoided it because the rain came on time. You may not know this, but Singapore has been in preparation for a 60-day Day Zero from day one. Because we may one day have our water supply from Malaysia cut. This is also the reason for NEWater.
But infrastructure alone is not enough. The community needs to be mobilized like for disasters like flash flooding. Singapore faces this kind of challenge.
It is important to learn from countries like Japan, because they have a long history of dealing with disasters. A small nation like ours too, while we may not have as many natural disasters, can still have other problems to deal with, like flooding, running out of water, and cyber attacks. Taking a leaf from Japan’s use of technology and the resilience of their people in dealing with disaster, is so very important to our own survival.
After the panel discussion, we were introduced to the wonders of Hokkaido by Aya Imura a.k.a. SAKURA, of the Ninja girls blog. Hokkaido is one of my favourite parts of Japan. I have been there in almost all the seasons, and it is also great to go back.
Just to give you an idea of how big Hokkaido is, at 83,456 square km, its land area is 116 times x Singapore.
The southernmost city of Hokkaido, Hakodate City, alone is 677.9 square km compared to Singapore is 721.5 square km.
Many Singaporeans go to Hokkaido thinking they can see it is a few days. But it is HUGE. So you really need to set aside ample time to get around the big island. It does not have a Shinkansen service that runs through it, unlike Honshu and Kyushu, so you won’t be able to get from one end to the other end in a few hours. It takes only three hours to get from Tokyo to Hakodate, the southern tip of Hokkaido, by bullet train, but it takes longer to get from Hakodate to Sapporo because you will be traveling by regular trains.
Please, Japan, can we get that Shinkansen line extension to reach Sapporo before the estimated date of 2030? I would be quite old by then.
Hokkaido takes in a lot of tourists, from all over the world. In 2011, there were 560,000 visitors to Hokkaido. In 2017 it was 2.8 mil. Hokkaido aims to have 5 mil visitors by 2020, the year of the Olympics.
As such, they have taken steps to provide support for tourists like Emergency Support Stations for Tourists in the event of natural disasters and accidents. These places will have information and consultation in multiple languages and charging stations for smartphones, and wifi for communications.
You can find out more about Hokkaido travel safety at their website: http://safety-travel.jp/
It was a good morning spent at the event. I ended it with some Hokkaido wine, and after seeing the beautiful images of the scenery there and partaking of my wine, I was itching to return to Hokkaido once again. I really need to get on a plane there soon. I miss it so much.
Recently a friend shared a 2016 article from the papers entitled, "Price of wedding tables hits new high", talking about the rising costs of a wedding.
There was a chart in the article that said: "How much should you put in your red packet?".
This kind of thing only perpetuates the rise in hotel wedding prices.
The piece was a 2016 ST article. I suspect the prices have gone up even more since then.
Like my mom likes to say, "Give what you can afford. Why should friends and relatives finance their fancy wedding? Don't tell me if they have a wedding that is $10,000 a table, I also have to give $1,000 meh?"
If guests and couples keep playing this one-upmanship game, hotels and restaurants can continue the price gouging. It's like an arms race, for the sake of face. And for the sake of the Instagram. Don't do it for the 'Gram.
It is an important Big Day, that is true. But it is only the first day of the rest of your lives together. You will face many more challenges ahead, especially financially, and you shouldn't start your union with a big fat wedding bill.
You know what is more important than the wedding? The marriage.
Save the dinner money. Go on a nice honeymoon. Start your marriage properly, without the crippling debt.
Photo above is the from our wedding more than 20 years ago. My bride looked so pretty in that 裙褂 (or Kwàhn Kwáa, in Cantonese). My wife looks better and better every day.
Best Comments on this topic:
Ryan Ong: "We’re hosting a wedding, not a hospitality industry business grant."
Mezame: "Aiyah no need to get married lah. Just update FB relationship status can liao. Free some more."
Victor Seah: "Hold your wedding at a hotel you can afford, and not MARRY TO A HOTEL."
Alyssa Chee: "Elope!"
Stef: "I've told my son I will give him S$10,000 to elope."
I am rather surprised and happy my old but pristine Panasonic SL-CT800 Discman still works. This very slim portable CD player was the bee’s knees back in the day, circa 2003. Even the remote still works. I powered the Panasonic with an old Sony Discman 4.5V power supply I found in another box.
I connected the SL-CT800 to the pair of Sonos Play:5 Gen 2 speakers in my living room via a 3.5mm line cable and boom, music in the home.
The reason I dug this old tech out of the drawer was because I had this CD by The College Fund Street Band, made up of the Fong siblings. I bought their CD after watching them perform at San Francisco Ferry Building some years ago. And I wanted to listen to it.
I know. Who still uses CD players anymore, right? But I have CDs that don’t exist in Apple Music or Spotify (I know, that’s hard to imagine), so this Discman will be nice to have around.
Here are some CDs I dug out of the box to try. I have to say, CDs and their uncompressed songs still sound better than streaming tracks.
Kim Huat visits Wellington, New Zealand and the WETA folks, to find out how Alita: Battle Angel was made.
YouTube link: youtu.be/YOtKD-8F8M8
I was doing some spring cleaning at home and decided to take everything out of my gear drawer to clean and inventory some of my stuff that I use for work, to make podcasts and videos. I know, I know. I need to only keep what “sparks joy”.
This is just the stuff in my home, not including my main gear in the office studio. Most of this was chosen for mobility. So it is mainly mobile journalism gear and designed for travel.
Some of the stuff are still being used. Some have been retired, either because the iPhone model I am using doesn’t support it anymore (like the older Ztylus case and lens) or I found something that works better.
So here goes, a list of what’s on the flat lay. From the top left, going from left to right. Gear with an asterisk are the things I am actively using daily:
1. Sennheiser Memory Mic*
2. V-MODA BoomPro microphone in a Muji case
3. Sennheiser ClipMic Digital lav mic* (my main mobile lav mic)
4. Shure MOTIV MV51 mic
5. Shure MOTIV MV5 mic (a.k.a. The Golf Ball)
6. Saramonic LavMic Premium Miniature Audio Mixer with two RØDE smartlav+ lav mics
7. RØDE SC6 mic splitter (I’m looking at getting the newer SC6-L Lightning one)
8. Shure MV88 mic* (my workhorse mobile mic)
9. Apogee MiC Plus condenser mic* (my travel Voiceover mic of choice)
10. ElectroVoice ND76 dynamic cardioid vocal microphone
11. iRig Mic Field, the pocket-sized digital stereo Lightning microphone
12. KNOG qudos action video light for GoPro
13. Rycote Micro Windjammers for compact camera onboard mics
14. Manfrotto Lumimuse 8 LED light
15. Some No-Name China Brand LED light
16. Aputure Amaran AL-M9*
17. SunwayFoto FL-96 LED light
18. Sony ICD-SX1000 digital voice recorder
19. Stereo-to-Mono XLR adapter cable
20. Audio-Technica AT2005USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR microphone (best value dual input handheld mic)
21. Manfrotto PIXI tabletop tripod attached to a Joby GripTight PRO 2 Mount*
22. DJI OSMO Pocket 3-axis stabilized handheld camera*
23. Manfrotto TwistGrip iPhone mount
24. iPhone mount made by my friend Arkady
25. Joby GripTight POV Kit
26. CliqueFie Selfie Stick
27. Sirui lens system for iPhones
28. Ztylus lens system (for older iPhone 6s Plus)
29. Shure MVi Digital Audio Interface with XLR cables
30. Zoom F1 Field Recorder + my own Sennheiser Lavalier ME 2 Mic
31. Zoom EXH-6 - Dual XLR/TRS Input Capsule
32. iRig Pro Duo Mobile Audio Interface
33. Audio-Technica AE5400 Handheld Condenser Microphone
34. Joby GripTight PRO (first-gen) on a Gorillapod
35. SIRUI TSH-01B Table Top Tripod Kit
36. GoPro 3 Way 3-in-1 Mount/Arm/Selfie Stick/Tripod
37. Carbon Fibre Waterproof Floating Hand Grip for GoPro and waterproof compact cameras
38. Joby GripTight with Joby Micro Tripod
39. olloclip lens system for iPhones
40. Moment lens system for iPhones*
41. Joby Gorillapod extension arms
42. iPhone XR in a Moment case*
43. iPhone XS in a Moment case*
44. Just Mobile ShutterGrip
45. Joby GorillaPod Hybrid
46. GoPro Curved Extension Arm
47. 360fly Mount
After I was done with this photo, I realized I forgot to include the headphones and earphones, both wired and wireless, lying around too. Ah well. Oh wait, there is also Mavic Pro drone in the other cupboard…
Those of you who have been following me know I am a fan of Sonos speakers. I have quite a number at home.
In case you need a quick refresher on what Sonos is, the Sonos system is a series of wireless speakers that allow you to listen to your music anywhere in the home, controlling your music through their app. You can choose to play the Sonos speaker in the bedroom while another member of your family plays their own music in the living room via the Sonos speakers there.
All this is done wirelessly over a wifi network set up by the speakers themselves.
In my master bedroom, I have a Dolby 5:1 surround sound setup, with the Player as the TV’s main speaker, the Sub for bass, and two Play:1 speakers as the rear speakers.
My living room has two version 2 Play:5 speakers, filling the space with music. Without the need for a Sub, even.
And I have random Play:1 speakers here and there for music in other rooms.
Now, the Playbar in my master bedroom is pretty awesome. As a soundbar, it does the job brilliantly with its nine speakers inside, great for movies and great for music. My only complaint with that model, being older, only came with just one audio input, an optical one. If you are looking for an HDMI port, the Playbar didn’t have it.
Enter the new Sonos Beam.
This is the latest soundbar from Sonos, and boy, have they updated it. It now comes with HDMI with ARC (audio return channel)! So you connect that Beam to your TV’s HDMI-ARC port, and it allows you to automatically pair your TV remote to Sonos Beam. You control everything with the one remote, instead of needing two (the Beam does not ship with one anyways).
If you have an older TV, that doesn’t have an HDMI-ARC port, you can use the optical port to connect the Beam. An optical-to-HDMI adaptor is included.
The Sonos Beam is a good entry point for a user looking to hook up their big-screen tv to a soundbar. It is cheaper than the Playbar but yet comes with some nifty things like a mic for voice control, and AirPlay 2 support. You can use Amazon Alexa and Siri with it, or Google Assistant later this year.
So the most important thing of all: how does the Sonos Beam sound?
I hooked it up to the living room TV and set it up using the app, to add it to my network of Sonos speakers. I know, the living room is bigger than the bedroom. Why set up this smaller-than-the-Playbar speaker in the big living room? To test it, of course!
I was a little skeptical, at first. I mean, this tiny thing, in a large living room of an older HDB flat?
But when I completed adding the Beam to the network and I turned on the TV, boom! Room-filling sound.
The soundstage is wide and the audio is crispy clear. Wider than you'd expect from such a small thing. And trebles, mids and bass are evenly interpreted, in a very balanced way.
It doesn’t sound like a budget soundbar, even though it is (by Sonos standards) the entry-level soundbar of the Sonos range. The only thing I felt a little lacking was in the bass department. But that can be fixed easily with the Sonos Sub (I highly recommend that Sub, it is so good).
Looks-wise, the Beam is minimalist and sleek. No unnecessary buttons or blinky things, no protruding bits. Just a smooth bar with touch-sensitive capacitive buttons for Play/Pause, and Volume Up/Down (also used to skip tracks). An unassuming LED light tells you the status of the speaker. It is just like the rest of the Sonos speakers in looks. Simple and unassuming.
AirPlay 2 support, which allows you to play video and music from Apple iOS and MacOS devices, works with the Beam. The newer range supports AirPlay 2, which is a welcome thing for Apple users like me. You can also find AirPlay 2 in the second-generation Play:5, Playbase and the new Sonos One.
Siri also works with the Beam and its AirPlay 2 cousins. So I can now say, “Hey Siri, play my Japanese City Pop playlist in the Living Room” and the Beam will play Plastic Love, by Mariya Takeuchi, from Apple Music.
I'm just playing games
I know that's plastic love
Dance to the plastic beat
Another morning comes
Like the rest of the Sonos range, the Beam works without wires, except for one cable for power and one HDMI cable to the TV. So adding additional speakers to make it into a full surround sound system is painless.
Get the Sonos Sub and plonk it anywhere in the living room, and the Beam can be paired with it wirelessly. Get two more Sonos One speakers and plonk them behind your sofa, wirelessly pair them with the Beam and you have Left and Right rear speakers. Super easy. No more running speaker cable all over the house and then getting fed up when you want to move speakers to a new position.
Alexa support means you can use your voice to control the Beam, but I think most users are waiting for Google Assistant support to come.
Unlike the Playbar, the Beam can only be placed in one way. The older Playbar can be mounted on a wall. But the Beam is so diminutive, I doubt you will have trouble finding space for it on a TV console/table.
I know what some of you are thinking. Where are the additional HDMI ports? Sonos prefers you connect the rest of your devices to the TV’s HDMI ports, with the sole HDMI port on the Beam to be used to connect to the TV itself. Whether you like this arrangement or not, is dependent on how many devices you own. I am not fussed about this, and frankly, if you really want to have external HDMI ports, you can get a HDMI Switcher box.
The Beam is an excellent soundbar for the money, and works very well in small to medium-sized rooms. For movies and TV stuff, it is more than adequate. For music, it is also very decent. It could use more bass, and you will be tempted to add the full shebang later to make it into a full home theatre, but most will find the Beam alone enough for daily use.
It is rare to find a product that handles movies and music equally well. The Beam is one of those products.
The Beam does not support Bluetooth, but in my years of using a Sonos wireless setup in my home, I have never felt a huge need for Bluetooth support.
The Beam comes in white or black. I chose the black because I am a boring person who worries about getting my speakers dirty. But the white is cooler.
The ease of setup that Sonos speakers are known for, is also found in the Beam. As well as Trueplay, that tunes the Beam to your room size and characteristics.
Personally, I think the Beam is one of the best soundbars you can get right now, at its price point. It is a great entry point into the Sonos range, and it allows you to grow the system at your own pace, adding pieces one by one. You will not regret buying the Beam.
In conjunction with this review, TC Acoustic has given me a Sonos One (NOT a Beam, ok?) to give away to a lucky reader. And not just any Sonos One speaker, but a HAY edition. Sonos partnered with Danish design brand HAY (hay.dk) to create a series of Sonos One speakers in five new colours, vivid red, forest green, pale yellow, baby pink and light grey. HAY Sonos One retails in Singapore for $399, and all you have to do to win one, is to follow the Instagram of @sonos_tca, and then leave a comment below this blog post, or on my Facebook Page under the post for this review), and tell me why you should get one. I will pick a winner from the comments submitted. Closing date is 1st of February, 2019. Contest is open only to Singapore citizens and people residing in Singapore. All the best to you guys!
Since everyone is sharing old versus new photos on Facebook, comparing their profile photos from ten years ago and their current ones, here are some of my photos.
The photos above are Mommy with Faith, 2006 vs 2018. My wife doesn't seem to age.
These photos above are Mommy with Joy, 2005 vs 2018.
And that's me with Isaac and Joy, 2007 vs 2018. Seeing Joy's laughter as a toddler, cracks me up.
How time flies. One moment they are babies, the next they are teens.
Seeing some of these photos brings a lump to my throat. I had forgotten I took those photos of Faith in hospital, her first of two major hospital stays.
That year, Faith was five years and eight months, and she had a throat infection and refused to eat and drink, because she didn’t understand why she had the pain. And we had to hospitalize her to put her on a drip. We took turns staying with her, and I pulled the night shifts.
That canvas folding bed that cracked when you unfold it was my bed for days. But somehow you forget the discomfort because you are more worried about your autistic firstborn and her ordeal sleeping in an alien environment.
We are thankful for all the help we get from our families, especially mom, and my brothers Meng and Wai. It really does take a village.
We are very blessed to have these three kids in our lives. They have given us much love, laughter and joy, and taught us how to have faith, and be better versions of ourselves. We thank God for them every day.
Kim Huat wonders why our neighbours keep wanting a crooked bridge between Singapore and Malaysia. With special guest, Fakkah Fuzz!
YouTube link: youtu.be/Oh5HCW5Iqu0
Special thanks to Fakkah Fuzz! You can check out his awesome work at: