Behind-the-scenes preview of 938Live radio interview

I haven’t listened to radio for a long time. It was partly the tired playlists, but Glenn Ong’s tasteless antics and unfunny jokes on Class95 had tipped me over the edge years ago.

So I didn’t know what to expect when a close friend hooked me up with 938Live’s Daphne Lim, who does a Sunday morning talk show called “The Good Life”.

The cheerful lady in purple is Madam Ong, who assists behind the console. She’s the one that cues the music intro (I always thought they add that during post-production), and adjusts the volume on the microphones. When I mentioned that the recording studio was chilly (the insulation is excellent, as you can imagine), she helpfully got us a pair of sweaters.

Daphne speaks like any other Singaporean, until the microphone is switched on. Then she puts on this amazing radio voice. It was like the difference between mono and stereo surround sound. I wish I have a radio voice too.

The Good Life is a breezy, lifestyle programme that discusses the good things in life. I suppose that’d be things like spas, sports cars, holidays in exotic locations… so I’m not really sure why they would be interested in para-canoeing.

But I’m happy for the chance to share with people my experiences, so I didn’t ask too much. I did the pre-recording on Wednesday, with the broadcast due on Sunday (9 Feb) at 10am and repeat at 8pm (GMT +8). Overseas listeners can tune in at 938Live’s live stream.

Thankfully, it’s not a live recording. Otherwise I’d be a nervous wreck.

I write better than I talk, so this blog post is to provide additional information about some of the topics raised during the interview:

Short version

Canoeing is fun, come and try! Email joseph@scf.org.sg for more info.

Long version

I was invited onto the show to talk about para-canoeing. Para-canoeing is canoeing for people with physical disabilities. Other than some simple modifications to the boat or paddle, everything else is the same as regular canoeing.

I lost my left leg in a motor accident in 2011. The national team coach, Coach Balasz, carved a block of Styrofoam, which was then glued down in front of my seat to help prop up my leg. It’s very basic but gets the job done. But I’m now starting to face some stability issues as my speed and stroke frequency increases. Hopefully, I will be able to get a customised rig in the future.

The Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF) has a vision of canoeing as an inclusive sport for everyone, including the physically disabled. That’s why they are making a big push to develop para-canoeing in Singapore. The “Paddle for a Cause” fund-raising event that raised $40,000 at the Singapore Canoe Marathon last month was just the start.

At the moment, I’m the only para-canoeist in Singapore, so I’m the default spokesperson. I have been blogging for a few years about stuff I’m interested in, such as psychology and technology. Now that’s become a useful platform to reach out to a wider audience about para-canoeing. Daphne was very nice to repeat my blog URL a few times in the show.

I’m very new to the sport, completing my 1-Star basic safety course in April 2012, and starting training in Dec 2012 after a second operation. So my total canoeing experience is only just over a year. There is another para-canoeist Jarius, but he’s currently studying in USA. He’s done really well at the World Championships for the past two years, coming in 7th in the finals.

That’s not a bad start, but we definitely want more people to get on board. Judging by the muscles on most canoeists, para-canoeing is obviously a great form of physical rehabilitation. I got started when my physiotherapist invited me to a sailing open house, where I met an officer from the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC). This was about 8 months after my accident and I was suffering from phantom limb condition. My leg is gone but somehow my brain didn’t get the message and still thinks it’s there. This causes severe neural pain for which I had to take strong prescription pain medication 5 times a day. I had hoped that doing sports would help improve my physical strength and control the phantom limb pain.

The sailing thing didn’t work out (I got seasick despite coming from a family of fishermen), but the SDSC officer arranged for me to try canoeing next. Prior to this, my only rowing experience was a two-day canoeing camp at my junior college’s Outdoor Activities Club almost two decades ago.

I loved it.

I felt so free and relaxed on the water, gliding along silently with my power. Being out there on the water and getting a glimpse of nature that most people never had the opportunity to see certainly does wonders for one’s mood.

I practise at MacRitchie Reservoir, just across the road from the MediaCorp Radio building. I’ve seen creatures that you don’t expect to exist in the concrete jungle that is Singapore. My favourite time to paddle is right after a thunderstorm, when the air is crisp and the water is still. The place is quiet as the crowds have yet to return.

You can also paddle at Kallang on the Rochor river, slipping under the Merdeka bridge and getting up close with personal with the Singapore Flyer. That’s also where the dragon boaters train, so things can get rather rowdy with them around.

One year on, my strength has certainly improved although all that exercise hadn’t helped the phantom limb pain. But now I’m paddling simply because I enjoy it.

So what can we expect from the para-canoeing programme? For a start, there’ll be new kayaks. I’m using a Viper 51 T1 kayak – the ‘1’ refers to the number of persons in the kayak. A T1 kayak has a broader body than the racing K1 kayaks. It’s slower but much more stable. Given that I was capsizing with alarming frequency in the first three months, the T1 Vipers are a great choice for para-canoeists.

Wait a minute! So what’s the difference between canoeing and kayaking? Well, the all-encompassing generic term is “canoeing”, but without getting too technical, the main differences are in the sitting position and paddle. A kayaker sits down on his bum and uses a double-bladed paddle, while a canoeist kneels down on one knee (the classic proposal pose) and rows on one side with a single-bladed oar. As you can imagine, it’s not very comfortable rowing a canoe. Luckily I paddle in a kayak.

So if you think para-canoeing could be your cup of tea, come on down to MacRitchie reservoir and get it a try. Joseph is the manager in charge and you can email him for more information at joseph@scf.org.sg.

Just come over and have fun canoeing. I think it’s impossible not to feel better after a session on the water.

And if you want to go farther in the sport and participate in competitions, we’re there for you too. I’m 37 this year and started with no prior experience. Later this year, I will have the chance to go Hungary and Moscow for international competitions. My wife is especially excited to hear that glamorous Milan is slated to be a competition venue in 2015. My long-term goal is to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Brazil, which will be the first Games to include para-canoeing as an official event.

All this is possible thanks to Coach Balazs for his guidance and SCF for their financial support. All para-canoeists will have their equipment and competition costs covered by the federation. When I started, I had to pay for my own paddle.

An infusion of new blood has reinvigorated the SCF committee and our sports advisor Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee has been going the extra mile for the canoeists. There are also many friendly people in the canoeing community who have helped me along the way. So the support is definitely there – it’s just up to you and me to make the most of it.

Are you excited about giving canoeing a try yet? Once again, you can get in touch with SCF at joseph@scf.org.sg. Hope to see you on the water soon!

Links

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How I came out at the Singapore Canoe Marathon 2014

Marathons are dime a dozen in Singapore. But a canoe marathon? There’s only one.

The Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF) just held its annual Singapore Canoe Marathon last Sunday (12 Jan 2014), but with a twist: it was the first time it’s held at the Punggol Waterway, away from its traditional venue at Kallang.

Starting line of the fun race

Starting line of the fun race

The mainstream media billed it as bringing canoeing to the heartlands. Well, I’ve always thought of canoeing as a down-to-earth, grassroots kind of sports. If canoeing were a guy, he’ll be the clean-cut boy next door (and dragon boating would be the loud punk blasting techno music).

And Kallang isn’t exactly a glamourous location either (OK, rowing past the Singapore Flyer is pretty cool).

Boat storage area - waiting for their race to begin.

Boat storage area – waiting for their race to begin.

But it is my first canoe marathon, and I have been looking forward to it since signing up for the 14km event. More experienced paddlers do the full monty 28km. Since I usually do 10km training sessions, I figured 14km is an achievable milestone.

Here’s a diagram of the route for a 6km loop around the Punggol Waterway; 4km if you take away the C-X-D side detour into the little canal on the right. So for my 14km race, I had to do a 4km-6km-4km route.

Here’s how it looks like on Google Maps.

Giant tent with vendor and administration booths

Giant tent with vendor and administration booths

There was a fundraising event in the morning, with VIPs rowing a total of 40km to raise $40,000 for SCF’s new para-canoeing programme. As I’m currently the only para-canoeist on the team (and the face of para-canoeing by default), SCF told me to expect some media interviews.

I had lost my left leg in a motor accident in 2011 – amputated above the knee. It wasn’t a happy event, and I haven’t told many friends about what happened to me.

But rather surprising myself, I have no reservations about speaking to the press. Over the past 13 months, I have been rowing regularly at MacRitchie reservoir. I suppose I’ve gotten used to the stares and the innocent questions children ask loudly. After all, this is who I am now and there is no point in pretending otherwise.

And raising awareness about the benefits of canoeing is one way I can help other people.

Me heading back to the starting line.

Me heading back to the starting line.

So in a way, this is my coming out party. Yes I lost a leg, but it’s OK. There’s still so much to look forward to in life.

I spoke to reporters from Today and Straits Times. Desmond helpfully suggested that CNA’s Patwant Singh interview me on camera. I absolutely refuse to watch myself on video, but you can see it here (more links below).

OK, back to the marathon! I was slated to do my 14km race together with the VIPs. Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin paired up with Ziqiang, our national team captain for 14km. Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee went solo for 10km. Finally, Nominated MP Nicholas Fang rowed 16km with Roy Chew, Assistant Director of Water Venture at People’s Association, for a grand total of 40km.

That was the plan anyway.

But the weather soon put paid to that. Conditions were rather challenging from the start. Our kayaks are narrow and can easily topple in choppy waters. The winds were blowing gustily along the length of the course, much stronger than what I was used to at MacRitchie Reservoir. Rowing into the headwinds was tough work. When I turn at the far end of the course, the winds buffeted me from the side and I had to be cautious not to overturn. It was especially tricky when turning out from the little side canal where the waters were sheltered and calm – sudden gusts could catch one unawares. There were also boats zipping uncomfortably near and creating unsettling waves.

Fun race paddlers. Can you spot me?

Fun race paddlers. Can you spot me?

Then the skies turned grey and it started pouring. Fortunately I was already on the last lap of my race. But the rain raised the alarming possibility of having to open the dam to release the water, in which case all boats have to exit the water. That would have caused a massive delay in the schedule.

Thankfully it wasn’t necessary in the end. But Nicholas and Roy were held back while officials debated the decision, and could only manage to complete 11km in the end – 5km short of their target.

By some weird balancing of the cosmic scales, Desmond did two 6km loops by mistake, and so paddled an additional 2km. And Tan Chuan-Jin and Ziqiang somehow went off course and did an extra 3km, which was why they finished after me despite my chasing their tail throughout the race.

So all’s well that ends well – we got the 40km under the belt and $40,000 in the coffers. Really looking forward to the new para-canoeing initiatives by SCF. I’ve already heard some exciting plans in private, but will wait for the official announcement. SCF and coach Balazs have been great, I’m thankful to them for their support.

Rowing under the expressway

Rowing under the expressway

Tan Chuan-Jin and Desmond did really well despite very limited training opportunities due to their hectic schedules. They handled the choppy conditions calmly, and rather impressively, stayed afloat on a day when there were more than a handful of capsizes. It took me months of paddling before I felt confident on the kayak. Hope to see them paddle more regularly.

After the race, I had the chance to chat with TCJ and Desmond. They were relaxed and chatty, sharing about their families and hobbies. Nothing like sports to break down barriers and bring people together.

I managed to clock a respectable timing for the race. This was a great lesson in pacing – I could have pushed myself harder, especially in the last lap. Perhaps 28km next year? Now that I’ve left my job, I’m training more frequently than ever. Hoping to chalk up some real improvements in the coming months!

Would you like to join me?

List of media mentions for Singapore Canoe Marathon 2014

ChannelNewsAsia (includes video): S’pore Canoe Federation to promote sport to more Singaporeans

Straits Times: Singapore Canoe Marathon debuts in heartlands as 700 take to Punggol Waterway

AsiaOne: Singapore Canoe Marathon raises $40,000 for the para-canoeing community

Today: Canoeing on the Bay

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Paddle for a Cause at the 2014 Singapore Canoe Marathon

Paddle for a Cause at the 2014 Singapore Canoe Marathon

We’ve all heard of Black Friday (shopping), and more recently Cyber Monday (online shopping) and even a Small Business Saturday (support your local mom-and-pop shops).

Do you know there is now a Giving Tuesday? After so many days of shopping, it’s certainly refreshing to have one dedicated to giving and philanthropy. Here’s one suggestion if you wish to donate during this festive season:

The Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF) is organising a canoe marathon on 12 Jan 2014. For the first time, it will be held at the Punggol Reservoir. I have just signed up for my first one, and it’s gonna be fun padding there instead of the usual venues at Kallang or MacRitchie Reservoir.

As part of the canoe marathon, SCF hopes to raise $40,000 to develop a para-canoeing programme that will allow athletes with physical disabilities to participate in and enjoy the sport. Much of the funds will go towards equipment such as specially-modified kayaks.

Para-canoeing is a sport that’s both physically and mentally demanding. You can recognise a canoeist by their muscles. I have been paddling for just over a year now, so I don’t look like one yet. I first picked up the sport at the introduction of a Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) officer. First, she brought me to try out sailing but I got seasick. So, no go there. Canoeing was next and I loved the experience of quietly gliding through the waters. Nothing rah-rah like those dragon boaters shrieking their heads off.

But there is limited funding for the sport. I had to pay hundreds of dollars for my own paddle and improvise a DIY leg support with a block of Styrofoam. Para-athletes from some countries get custom-molded carbon fibre equipment. Imagine how much further the sport can progress with greater support from you and the public.

There will be a fun race to fund-raise (pun intended). A group of VIPs will row 1 metre for every dollar raised before the marathon, up to 40km (for a total of $40,000) So far, SCF has roped in Acting Minister for Manpower, Mr Tan Chuan Jin, Minister of State for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, and Nominated Member of Parliament, Mr Nicholas Fang (the fencing guy turned swimming guy).

Donors who contribute at least $5,000 will get their names or corporate logos proudly blazoned on the kayaks. You also get to enjoy 2.5 times the amount in tax deductions; it’ll all pay off come 1 April.

Every dollar counts. If you’d like to support the sport of para-canoeing, please contact Mr Wong Woei Luen at wong_woei_luen@scf.org.sg.

Hope to see you at Punggol in 2014!

Update (16 Dec 2013): The fund raising target is $40,000, not $540,000. Sorry for the typo!

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My first 3 days on a Google Chromebook

I’ve always been attracted by the idea of a lightweight computer that I could use on-the-go and lounging on the bed. My main computer is a 16.4 inch behemoth of a laptop with noisy whirring fans and a battery that could barely last an hour. It’s best left alone on the table.

Google has been pitching their Chromebook laptops for a couple of years now. These are not your conventional Windows laptops. Instead, Chromebooks run a different operating system called Chrome OS. It looks and feels very similar to the Chrome browser you might run on your Windows or Mac computer. Some have described a Chromebook as a hardware shell over the Chrome browser.

Screenshot of a Chromebook desktop

Screenshot of a Chromebook desktop

It all sounds very intriguing. I finally succumbed to my curiosity and purchased one of the latest Chromebooks to hit the market: the Acer C720 Chromebook.

You might be thinking about getting a Chromebook too. Here’re my thoughts on Chromebooks after 3 days from the perspective of a typical end-user.

What a Chromebook can and cannot do

The Chromebook “software programmes” are actually apps on the web. This means you need an Internet connection to do most tasks on the Chromebook (although Google has gradually expanded the number of apps you can run offline without any Internet access).

This reliance on an Internet connection is less of a deal-breaker than you might think. After all, wouldn’t you need Internet access while using Windows laptops too? When the Internet goes down, everyone in the office takes a break because no real work gets done.

But there are some things Chromebooks can’t do. They can’t run specialised programmes like iTunes for your Apple products (but that’s a lousy, bloated piece of software anyway). They can’t run multimedia suites such as Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. They can’t run professional industrial software for engineers and computer programmers. You can’t even play most popular games on them.

So what can they run? Well, what do most people use their computers for? There’re productivity tasks like email, Word documents, spreadsheets, and presentation slides. They browse Facebook and other web sites, watch YouTube, and listen to streaming music for entertainment. You can even play simple games such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope.

Chromebooks can do all these and more. That makes it a compelling choice for many people, especially when it’s just so cheap. For a long while, there was a huge gulf between Chromebook and Windows laptops prices. The Samsung Chromebook 3 was launched last year at USD249. The cheapest Chromebooks start from just USD199. A basic Windows laptop would cost at least USD 400.

Impact of Windows 8

Things shifted dramatically with the introduction of Windows 8. As part of Microsoft’s marketing push, prices have started to drop significantly for the lower-end laptops. Amazon has a dedicated section devoted to Windows 8 laptops under USD 300.

I just picked up a Dell Venue 8 Pro, an eight-inch Windows 8 tablet for USD 299. It has a beautiful touchscreen display, and runs the new-style Windows 8 Modern apps and all conventional Windows software. On top of that, it can also access all the same Chrome OS software used on Chromebooks.

How about a regular Windows 8 laptop then? These are starting to drop in price too. With the Black Friday sales going on, I could pick one up for around USD250 – the same price as a Chromebook.

So why not just buy a low-end Windows laptop?

Sure, you could. It took me a while to understand the appeal of a Chromebook, and I think the mass market will continue to look past its strengths for some time to come. It all boils down to this: simplicity and speed.

A Windows laptop is a Jack-of-all-trades – a general purpose computer designed to handle many types of tasks competently. The Chromebook, on the other hand, does few things but masters them.

1. Let’s talk about speed first

A brand new Windows laptop, especially the new Windows 8 laptops with fast solid-state drives (SSD) boots up quickly in 10 seconds or under. Out of the box, that’s the fastest it will ever be. Try timing it after you install your antivirus software and a dozen other background apps. And it’s all downhill from there. The Windows system gradually gets cluttered with all sorts of junk and starts to choke up. I am relatively tech savvy and do regular maintenance on my Sony laptop to combat this inevitable slowdown. But it still takes me over a minute before the computer finishes running the startup tasks and becomes responsive enough to work on.

The Chromebook boots up in just 7 seconds. You can type in your password and get working in under 15 seconds. It doesn’t slow down over time. In fact, it usually gets faster instead as Google continues to improve and refine the Chrome OS with updates every 6 weeks.

2. Chromebooks go back to basics

Bear in mind that Windows OS is a heavyweight software. You need a more powerful computer to get the same computing experience as on a Chromebook. Surfing the net on the Chromebook was a fresh experience – I had never seen the Chrome browser run so fast before. It was even faster than the Chrome browser on my Sony which has a second-generation Core i7 processor and 8 Gbs of RAM.

A cheap Windows laptop with a low-end processor quickly runs into performance issues, especially after getting bogged down by all those antivirus and background apps. Chromebooks cannot get infected by viruses because they run on a different OS from Windows and Apple computers.

Chrome OS strips away all the extraneous bloat of Windows and leans on the processing power on the cloud. The heavy lifting of say, editing your holiday photographs, is done elsewhere and the results sent back to your Chromebook. This is like the “thin client” concept from two decades ago, where low-end computers (“client”) depend on a powerful central computer (or the “server”) for their processing needs.

So to get a Windows laptop that offers a comparable experience to a Chromebook, you would need to spend more than you think.

What do you use your computer for?

Is that extra money worth it? It’s really up to you, and how you use your laptop. If you use it to play games or video editing, then a Chromebook is out.

For me,  a Chromebook is wonderful as a secondary laptop, to type emails and watch YouTube videos while lounging on the bed. To bring along on short trips because it’s so light I could just chuck it into the backpack and forget about it. It has great battery life of 7-8 hours so I could get through a day without any issues. And because it’s so cheap, I won’t even mind as much if it gets broken or stolen, especially because my data is always synced on the cloud. I could just turn on another Chromebook and continue working exactly where I left off.

It’s great for kids and tech-oblivious grandparents too. No longer will you need to be their IT support guy. They won’t be able to unknowingly install malicious software or get infected with viruses.

It just works.

That’s why schools are starting to get onto the Chromebook bandwagon. Cheap laptops, easy IT maintenance, free office software – what’s not to like? And that’s the most powerful strategy up Google’s sleeve. Imagine a whole generation of school kids growing up with Google apps – what will they use when they step into the workplace? The authority of IT departments is waning with the Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) trend. People insisted on using their iPhones and Androids over Blackberry, propelling their growth in the enterprise space.

What happens when people insist on using Google Docs over Microsoft Office, and Gmail over Outlook? No wonder Microsoft is running scared. Just look at their latest Scroogled ad:

Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign with pawn stars

The biggest flaw that Microsoft could come up with was that Chromebooks need Internet access? Well, so do Windows laptops, for most users anyway.

The price cuts of Windows 8 laptops are a powerful response to Chromebooks. Depending on the needs of the user, a cheap Windows laptop could be a more compelling choice. We’ll get a better sense of how consumers respond in 2014.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to use my Acer Chromebook together with my Dell Venue 8 Pro and report on my experiences with both products.

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New typing game by creator of Minecraft

A deceptively addictive typing game created by the maker of Minecraft, in the mould of an old-school typing programme. Words appear in a spiral with spinning cubes and shapes in the background. You simply type what you see. There are minimal instructions.

The trick is recognising what words would come up. You also get bonus points by pressing enter after completing each word, with more points for a string of consecutive words. The maximum bonus score appears to be 20.

You probably won’t survive long on your first try. After 30 minutes of playing, I managed to chalk up a personal best of 595.

Have fun!

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What do you get when you combine origami with a kayak?

Canoe and Kayak Magazine: Newest Kayak “in the Fold” http://goo.gl/mag/Z04SWyr

I once bought an inflatable kayak. The darn thing was so heavy I practically need to trolley to chug it around, and takes so long to assemble I’ve used it only 3 times. It’s now safely hidden away in the dark corners of my storeroom.

Now, a new Kickstarter project promises the best of both worlds – a light weight and portable folding kayak. It’s performance remains to be seen but its unique application of origami techniques is intriguing to say the least.

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What’s the opposite of “schadenfreude”?

Shep naches is Yiddish for “happiness at another’s success”.

No idea how to pronounce it but it sure sounds wonderful.

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