Iron Man, stamps and cosplayers

The December issue of Singularity was chock full of photos. Here’s some of them:

The Singapore Philatelic Museum offered tons of visual treats. We had a life-sized model of Iron Man.
Iron Man

Then a photo taken by G. R. Lambert of old Singapore.
Photo taken by G.R. Lambert

The museum housed old postboxes of Singapore too.
Old Singapore postbox

There was a cosplay event during the Anime Festival Asia held in Singapore. Here’s a cosplayer in Bayonetta mode (photo taken by my friend, Aaron Neo).
Bayonetta cosplayer

Here’s one in Rikku mode.
Rikku cosplayer

You can look at more photos in the December issue.

If you celebrate it, merry Christmas! If you sort of celebrate it, happy Crimbo! If you don’t care either way, then happy Saturday!

Ebook product launch delayed

The programming ebook product I told you I was launching on 17th December? Not gonna make it. The reason? My computer died completely on me.

Since I can’t make that deadline, launching during the holiday season will be ill-advised. So the date is moved to sometime in January next year (or month if you prefer). I am truly sorry that this happened.

Now one of those big Internet marketers would probably salvage this by continuing on with a pre-sale, maybe give you bonus material, or discount, or some exclusive information. I thought and searched real hard, and I don’t have anything that won’t sound lame. So I can only offer you my deepest apologies.

That said, I can tell you a story.

How my computer decided to sabotage me

My previous computer was 5 years old, which is ancient by Internet standards. So I decided to buy a Dell i7 processor computer. I was still working in a job and could afford the S$3000+ computer. It had blazing fast processors and a good graphics card (demos are graphics intensive programs). That was in November 2009.

Come this June 2010, my i7 started spluttering. It hung while I was playing a music visualisation I think. Since then, it will hang within minutes of power start up. I needed to wait for half an hour before repowering it up again to log in.

I know I should have call Dell support and get a technician to look at it. But I was afraid I’d lose a few days getting the computer fixed. I know it’s ridiculous and I’m an idiot. I wasn’t really thinking straight. I was self-employed by then, and was a bit concerned about money and cashflow. And not eating sufficiently can mess with your thinking. So I’ve been told.

Before telling you what I did next, let’s go back a few weeks…

6 feet under

Near the end of last month, my uncle died. I had just gotten a new surge of energy and direction. You know, the Excel Open XML ebook product. I was excited that I’ve found something I can offer to you. So I worked hard. Then I got the news.

During that unfortunate event, I also had to finish my magazine. It was terrible timing, but I got through it.

Amidst her grief, my grandmother still managed to ask me something. Did I have a girlfriend? I said no. “AH BUAY PAKTOH?!?!” That’s the Chinese dialect, Hokkien for “Not dating yet?!?!” What can I say, we Chinese are pragmatic people…

Yeah, I’m telling you now what I’ve been sorta shy to talk about. I like Caucasian women. I’ve been asked what’s wrong with Singaporean women or Asian women before. Nothing! I just prefer Caucasians. My friend suggested that Nordic women’s (Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Scandinavia in general) temperament might be compatible to mine. So if you’ve been following my Twitter or Facebook accounts, that’s where the Swedish references came from.

The point of breaking

Many people around me don’t really understand why I chose to be self-employed. Family and friends, the very people I need the most support from. I’m not kidding myself. I’m not doing so hot right now. So I’m looking for a Caucasian wife and freedom by having some kind of online business. If I wanna date, I need money. And getting an online business isn’t conducive to that, isn’t it?

I don’t know how to answer that. All I know is that I’ve walked the path of being under someone’s payroll, not really being free (time- and choice-wise), and I know how that’s gonna end for me.

So I chose being an entrepreneur slash self-employed slash online business owner. I gave up a lot of stuff. Movies, public transport (I walk a lot), new clothes, meeting with friends (because the transport cost of meeting them can buy me a meal), food. I can honestly tell how sucky it is to not have food to eat. I eat 4 slices of bread with peanut butter for dinner. I considered expanding that to breakfast and lunch, but I thought malnutrition might do me in faster than my shrinking bank account. A bit of advice; do not take your food for granted.

Holiday month

So I managed to finish the December issue of Singularity and got ready for the January issue. I’ve got exciting news for you. I managed to have the authors of Snarkmarket as interviewees. So if Robin Sloan, Timothy Carmody or Matt Thompson is reading this, it’s why I’m taking a while if I haven’t replied to your emails.

Multitasking the preparation of next month’s magazine issue, I went back to work on the Open XML ebook. I had just finished all the code portions and was going to work on the ebook proper when the i7 finally didn’t like the workaround and died on me. When I start it up, it just gives a sighing whirl and dies. After a fee seconds, it whirls back to life for a brief second and dies. It was excruciatingly painful to watch, like a human struggling to hold on to his last breath. And that analogy was exceedingly close to my financial situation. Very painful to think about.

Decision averted

When the i7 died, I panicked. I’ve been struggling for over 8 months now, depending entirely on my computer. I gave up many things, a comfortable but intellectually and creatively stifling job amongst them. I started swearing a lot, if only to myself. I starved. I meditated more often, mostly so I could face the uncertain future with faith. A relative passed away. My biological clock was also ticking. Then my computer died. If I weren’t in control of my fate, I think someone has a weird sense of humour…

I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing. If you ask an entrepreneur, he probably can’t tell you either. These past few weeks were just very trying…

A secure job

I was sort of offered a job. My stomach prompted my guts to at least consider it. It was a job in the military/government sector. I was practically a perfect fit for it, what with my maths and computational science background.

Then I considered the consequences. I couldn’t use an iPhone. Not really a deal breaker, but you won’t be reading this post if I didn’t have some recent version of mobile phones.

I might not be allowed to have a side business. My blog and magazine could be the property of the government or military, and not mine. You might wanna check your contract terms that youre not “work for hire”.

And in the hopeful and possibly small chance that I manage to find a Caucasian woman who loves me, there will be security checks. You know, for national security.

I said no. It was very painful for my stomach and bank account to accept it. I will find another way, somehow.

Be grateful

I don’t know about you, but I can bet I have a lousier holiday season than you. But I’m not a betting person, and besides, I can’t really afford to lose. I had to throw away a bunch of bananas my mother bought me. And it pained me a little, because I lost food that could last maybe a couple of meals more. But there was mould on it, and it looked like a giant tarantula, so I chucked it into the garbage chute.

So be grateful for what you have. I am facing what appears to be insurmountable odds. Only 1 in 5 (10?) businesses succeed. Online businesses might have different (better?) odds. A Chinese dude looking for a Caucasian girlfriend/wife, especially since he’s not “financially stable” (a friend kept repeating that)

Well in my panicked haste, I went to buy a cheap computer. Then I swallowed my pride and checked the warranty status of my i7. Still in luck. I cancelled my order, and I’m now in the process of waiting for the technician to arrive. I hope I can get it fixed.

So I hope you have a better time than me.

And happy holidays ahead.

Interview with Matt Pearce

Interview with Matt Pearce

I had the opportunity to speak with Matt Pearce last month. He’s an artist and illustrator in United Kingdom. I came across his work when I spoke with Iain Broome (whom I interviewed before). It’s always interesting to find out what the motivations of an artist are for his work, so I asked Matt. I must admit, I was expecting maybe some childhood memory, some prominent figure, some inspiring event. Matt gave me a short yet expressive answer:

The main reaction or feeling I try to evoke is a smile. Pure and simple.

Everyone can use an extra smile. 🙂

Read the entire interview in the December 2010 issue of Singularity.

First programming product almost done

As I mentioned earlier, I’m preparing a guide to creating Excel files using just code and the Open XML SDK. I’m calling it “Excel Open XML From Scratch” (nice name, huh?). All the source code (C# and VB.NET) had been written and tested. They work! Yay!

So now, I’m writing the accompanying PDF to explain the code and concepts. As mentioned before, I’m targeting a “before Christmas” launch. Now that we’re nearer the date, I can confidently tell you that it’s going to be sometime within the next few days. It will be released on 17 December. This gives you a week before Christmas to get this as a present for yourself or a programmer friend.

The price will be set at USD 17 (see actual price on product page), which I believe is a fair price considering that it will save you hours of work. Think about how much you’re paid per hour. Probably more than the price of this product. Hmm… I might even have to increase the price…

This is my first programming-related product, so I’m really excited by this. If you don’t really care about C#, VB.NET, Open XML or Excel, then I apologise. Just ignore any related posts for the immediate couple of weeks.

Singapore ranked high in PISA 2009 survey

According to the latest PISA results, Singapore is ranked 5th overall in terms of reading capabilities (see executive summary in PDF). Singapore also scored high in mathematics and science.

“Better educational outcomes are a strong predictor for future economic growth,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “While national income and educational achievement are still related, PISA shows that two countries with similar levels of prosperity can produce very different results. This shows that an image of a world divided neatly into rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly-educated countries is now out of date.”

Wealth and level of education does not come hand in hand. You still have to work for it.

The best school systems were the most equitable – students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. But schools that select students based on ability early show the greatest differences in performance by socio-economic background.

I’m a bit cautious of this one. Skill honing at an early stage assumes that whatever a student is good at has already manifested itself. It’s a reasonable assumption. It’s only dangerous if the skill specialisation is to the exclusion of all else (or even “many” else). It gets worse if the student don’t like his “special” ability, and also has aptitude in another area that he likes. But the student is already shuffled into Box A for the first skill.

What do you think?