What Steve Jobs meant to me

Today, Apple employees are honouring their late co-founder. I’ve no idea what they’ll be doing and it’s not a public event but figured I too could be part of the celebrations by writing and posting my tribute to him.

Two weeks ago I turned on the television while having breakfast and decided to watch the news. It’s not something I do daily as I find it depressing to wake up to news – it’s always bad and there’s hardly anything that’s positive and inspiring. How true on that morning of 6 Oct. As I watched the coverage, I cried.

I cried for a man who didn’t know I existed, a man whom I’ve never even seen in person. I looked to the web for comfort, reading every article about Steve Jobs that I came across, and its ensuing comments. Oh I felt silly for all the emotions that I felt that day and the days that followed – I didn’t know the man, how ridiculous to be grieving. It was only with distance from the sadness and online chatter that I was able to understand why Steve Jobs’s passing affected me so.

It was 1996; the time when the Internet crept into the minds of ordinary citizens in SG – ISPs were aggressively signing customers up and exchanging e-mail addresses among friends was all the rage. Once online, I couldn’t get off; I was enthralled by this new world. Feeling that I had to be part of it, I sent my resume to my ISP provider, never mind that I was no programmer or computer engineer.

There was no job for me at my ISP but its parent company had several others Internet companies that were hiring. I joined a media company that was building several lifestyle portals – imagine that in 1996! On my first day, as my editor gave me a brief orientation, he asked, “Can you use a Mac?”

“No. But I can learn.” came my confident reply even though I wasn’t feeling too sure.

Turns out I had little to be unsure about. From the get go, everything was a breeze. It was easy to use, programmes and the Internet looked beautiful, it never crashed on me, and on top of that, I was able to customise anything that I wanted. My e-mail app was a sultry Marilyn Monroe called (fe)mail. With all my colleagues on Macs, I saw beautiful personalised desktops and witnessed the production of amazing work. Perhaps all of this was possible on a Windows run PC but I’d never seen it before and certainly wouldn’t have been able to work it out on my own.

When I left the job eventually, I promptly bought my own Mac. They weren’t pretty looking in those days – more like a super deep dish pizza box – but there was something about it that drew me in and I couldn’t go back to a PC.

As my love affair with the Mac grew, so too my love affair with the company, and along the way, Steve Jobs became my hero. His vision, his ideas, his public persona spoke to me. He didn’t know this but he mentored me from a zillion miles away. Every presentation he gave made me realise how every one I gave sucked and I can do better. Every product and service he introduced made me conscious of how design shapes the world we live in and why it’s singularly the most important aspect of business, even life. Yet so many companies fail to see this, thinking they’re only providing telco solutions, selling books, manufacturing, delivering goods, etc. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve written into companies offering my thoughts on how they should structure their bill, their website, their feedback process, and the like.

Then came the Stanford commencement address. If I knew nothing about Steve Jobs, that alone would have won me over. To know his achievements was to add a new dimension to this already great man. I admired him even more. In fact, I think ‘hero’ isn’t even fitting. How would you describe someone who shows you how life – professional and personal – should be lived? I don’t know the word but Steve Jobs demonstrated that life should be, no, needs to be filled with stubborn desire to do what you love and to fill it with a passionate drive to change the world. (OK, in my case, my community.) Traits which I grew up believing to be unattractive and have suppressed were traits Jobs possessed and used to maximum effect. If I had known and learnt earlier how to harness them, I think I’d be much further along in my personal development. Above all, he told me (OK not directly) to trust myself and listen to my own instincts because I know what is right; to not give in to peer pressure, popular sentiment or rules; that I should live the life I want ‘cos my time is limited. It was comforting. Deeply comforting.

Several articles that were published following his death lampooned the grief people displayed and to them I say: how dare you. Some people are fortunate to have a parent, a senior colleague or a family friend to guide them. Others don’t and look to public figures to fill in the gaps. Jobs filled in those gaps for me in areas no one around me has been able to fill. He epitomised the life I hope and want for myself at the highest level, and that is worth a lot to me.

Steve Jobs was one of a kind and I’ll miss his genius.


Business ideas for the ordinary Singaporean

I have a few business ideas for all the Singaporeans out there who are jobless, caught in dead-end jobs or jobs that they hate. Please take a look to see if you could implement or expand on any of these and live a more fulfilling life as an innovator, change agent or entrepreneur.

I’ve categorised them into two broad categories so it’s easier to zoom in on your area of interest or expertise

If you’re a people person

1. Start a charity to specifically help the aunties and uncles who are picking up trash/cans/cardboard boxes

Most people feel bad when they see the elderly bent over, working their butts off when they should be enjoying their golden years. I can’t say I know why they are working – I’ve never spoken to any one of them. The general opinion is that they work because they have to, in order to support themselves or their family; and there’s a considerable amount of anger that the government isn’t helping.

My take is: Forget the PAP (and PLEASE learn that maxim). If you look at a number of developed countries, organizations and individuals step in where the government won’t or can’t; and it’s time more Singaporeans take up social causes and turn this nation around, especially when cracks are appearing in society. You would be seen as a hero, a positive contributor to society. You’d be doing a whole lot of good and SG will be a much more pleasant place to live in.

2. Operate a personal concierge service that focuses on the key pain points of Singaporeans. Keep it to a short list of services that you know Singaporeans would need and do those few things in the most amazing way possible.

In order for this to work well, I believe the other thing to focus on is your immediate surroundings. I keep hearing about the loss of kampong spirit so bring it back. Community or togetherness invigorates the human spirit and it could lead to possibly less social ills. One more benefit about concentrating on your neighbourhood is that it means zero travel for you, which translates to a variety of savings.

The areas, which I think most useful are:

  • Child-sitting. With the increase in maid levy or maid problems, more people may find it difficult to employ a maid. Many more do not have the means as well. It seems like parents with primary school children are most squeezed. They want someone to watch over the kids at home and guide them, but a maid isn’t necessarily qualified; yet both parents need to work. What then? Wouldn’t they find a child-sitting service for a reasonable fee beneficial?
  • Project managing home renovations and smaller home services such as aircon servicing, plumbing, etc.
  • Catering service. Provide nutritious, home cooked meals, which your neighbours can easily pick up.

The long-term benefit of this is that Singaporeans would be able to rely less and less on maids; and this is a good thing. Singaporeans need to wean themselves off this dependence on foreign domestic help.

If you are more technically inclined

3. Invent and manufacture dry and breathable or cool apparel and footwear

Why is it that Dri-Fit or Geox was invented in a place with four seasons, relatively low humidity even in summer and not a huge amount of rainfall? What do they know about living in hot, humid environments 365 days of the year with seasonal monsoons? But you do. Market size: not sure, but definitely more than a billion. Think about that!

4. Build lightweight carriers

In the Dec10/Jan11 issue of Monocle, there’s an article about Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin’s exoskeletons that got me really excited! It says that the frames would “give wearers the ability to carry up to 90kg with little effort while remaining limber enough to kick a football”. This would greatly help infantrymen. But imagine the possibilities for consumers!!

A backpack would be obvious, but how about a carrier that would help folks, especially the older ones with their heavy load? Considering there’s a rapidly ageing population around the world and many cities/towns with cobbled streets and unforgiving stairs, it’d be fantastic. Baby carriers. Luggage. A frame that can be assembled/disassembled around an item to assist with any heavy object. Can you see the potential??

5. Create a more environmentally friendly packaging for supermarkets to replace styrofoam and plastic containers.

6. Invent a cool mist (or sorts) system in MRT / buses to combat bad smells, reportedly one of the top reasons why Singaporeans feel stressed while on their way to work. This ranks at #3 and is even above rude behaviour!

7. Create a crowd-sourcing site for non-profit organizations

With scandals in SG over misuse of funds in charity organizations as well as a common gripe about not being sure where monetary donations go, perhaps it’s time for someone to create a crowd-sourcing site that is not centered around raising funds.

Chartiy orgs can put up their request for paint jobs, books, beds, equipment, etc, and volunteers would need to get these things done; they’re not able to simply donate the money. This makes charity work more meaningful and you would know exactly what you’ve donated towards.

8. Provide personal cloud computing solutions

Digitise someone’s library – photos, books, CDs, DVDs, LCD, VCDs – the whole lot. This is becoming a very popular service in Japan as homes are small. Any Singaporean would agree that most living spaces in SG are getting smaller and we are seeing the rise of tablets. Cloud computing may not be on the minds of most people and it may not be cheap right now but there’s a market for someone who can offer a reasonable solution.

I, Nokia, take thee Microsoft to be my awfully chosen platform

It didn’t come as a surprise to me that the once golden Nokia would adopt the still fledgling Windows Phone 7. My prediction is an eventual takeover Trojan horse style. If Stephen Elop had really wanted Nokia to make a surge at the races, he could’ve gone with Android. Instead, he chose Limpbiscuit, a platform that so far hasn’t had much success.

Meanwhile, every day adds a new drama to this wrong-wrong alliance. I’m not really keeping up with the developments but TH’s loving the drama as he has worked in both companies in his previous life. The latest, I’m told, will be an intervention to oust Elop. I just want to be right.

Get well soon, Steve!

On Monday, a memo was released that Steve Jobs would once again be taking medical leave.

Much as I know Apple will do OK without Mr Jobs in the house every day, and they’ve done their succession planning well, I couldn’t shake off the dreadful feeling.

So I’m sending my best wishes off into cyberspace and I hope it’s not too serious. I hope he recovers well because he’s still young and I’m sure he still has a lot more in him to give to the world.

Why do I need Mobile Me?

Today, I received a reminder that my Mobile Me subscription will be expiring soon and I need to renew it. The first thing that came to my mind, and this is the first thing that comes to mind every year when I receive the notice, was: Why do I need this? Unbeknownst to me, those words weren’t in my head. I had said it out loud and TH was within earshot.

“Because you love Apple,” came the reply I wasn’t expecting. I shot TH a dirty look.
Another dirty look.
“OK, let’s list down all the reasons then,” he said with a smug grin.

Every year, I go through this. The Mobile Me subscription isn’t cheap and the features aren’t mind-blowing for the price you have to pay. In fact, I hardly use any of them. Wait. That’s even a stretch. I don’t use any of them, except e-mail, and surely that is not sensible. After all, I have four other web-based perfectly free e-mail accounts.

I know TH is right. I love Apple. But I’m a rational, practical human being. I own less than 10 pairs of shoes and my clothes barely fill one wardrobe, I don’t need to fly the best airline, sleep on 500-thread-count Egyptian cotton or have the latest gadgets. I’m not one for excess, so why the need for the account?

Back in the early days, when I first signed-up for an Internet account, I chose a cute moniker; one that means something to me but is as difficult to figure out as 1 + 1. As the Internet exploded and spam became a way of life, my account became an open invitation to spam. It’s like all day happy hour in my mailbox. That’s when I realised I needed another e-mail account. Plus the fact that cute isn’t very credible when job hunting. I signed up for another Hotmail account, but couldn’t get one with my exact name.

Then came .Mac. I admit that my initial subscription was irrational – Apple had just announced the service and I was starry-eyed under Steve’s reality distortion field. I signed-up and scored my name! I was now a proud owner of a Mac account with my name! Over the years, as I’ve signed up with other e-mail services, my .mac e-mail address remains the only one with my exact name.

And I guess that’s the reason – vanity and pride (Hey, finally! Signs that I am a Leo). I like that my e-mail address is as simple as my name, without extra letters or numbers, without a hyphen or dot. It’s exactly me. Now, excuse me while I get onto ebay to look for a subscription pack.

TH, upon reading this blog, suggested that I check the various services again, as they recycle handles. I was in doubt but decided to look. It’s available on Hotmail. Holy cow! What do I do?? He is pushing me to let it go. I can’t! It’s my primary e-mail address, it gives me storage space for photos…and stuff, I can…errr…sync important dates with my iPhone, it allows me to…umm…it’s a .mac account!

No e-books for me

CES 2011 is over and with that came the report that around 80 tablets were introduced. 80! 80!! Wow…so much for all that talk a year ago that tablets wouldn’t have a big audience as they were not quite a netbook and definitely not a laptop. Do netbooks still exist? It brings to mind a hilarious conversation I had with TH two years ago about Nokia getting into netbooks. But I digress.

Tablets, the success of Kindle (to some extent Nook) and news that sales of e-books have surpassed sales of hardcover books on Amazon suggest…actually, indicate that we are on the cusp of tremendous change in the publishing world. Just yesterday, TH was telling me about a publishing house that’s on the verge of collapse.

“They’re still in traditional publishing,” he said.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You know, traditional publishing.”
I looked over at TH who was concentrating hard on the roads and wasn’t going to offer further explanations.
“Oh!!” It finally dawned on me. “No e-books then?”
“Nope. They’re going to have to innovate or fold.”

TH has worked in tech companies all his life so he’s pretty wired. Everything is about technology to him. When the Kindle was announced, his eyes lit up like a child on Christmas day sitting by the Christmas tree adorned with presents. He embraced the idea of e-books immediately and proclaimed a revolution.

Me? Not so keen. I know how e-books will change my life – less clutter around, less need for shelf space, lighter load when travelling, ability to make / change notes (not that I do that now). In fact, travelling is where I see it all coming together. But, but…

I love the world of print. Printed books and magazines. The graphics on the cover that hope to capture your attention and summarise the edition, the feel of the cover – embossed, debossed or a smooth printed surface, the smell of paper, the weight and texture of the paper, the font. The tactile experience of the book/magazine per se. Have you ever held an antique book in your hand and turned the pages? It’s a spiritual experience!

So I’m not ready for e-books and I dread the day the entire publishing world turns digital. Right now, I’m doing my part – buying books and magazines at bookstores and borrowing books from the library. I don’t hope to start a revolution but I’d like to prolong a tradition.

Please explain “Booking fees”

I’ve been an online citizen since 1996. I’ve seen the WWW grow from being a repository of information to an essential tool for everyday living. Internet banking, buying, selling, making hotel reservations, booking various types of tickets. Yup, can’t live without it now.

So we’ve come a long way and I’ve gone along with all these developments; they seemed like natural progressions. But something stopped making sense last week – booking fees. It’s odd ‘cos I’ve always paid that fee. I think it’s my current state of zero income and the $3 fee. It’s not a lot but I suddenly wondered why I had to pay it – $3 could buy me lunch.

I looked on the Sistic website for an explanation and couldn’t find one in their FAQ section. Next best stop – Golden Village ‘cos they charge a fee too. Here’s what they say:

“A $1 booking fee per transaction applies to all… This fee covers the administration, development and maintenance required to provide this convenient service to our customers.”

It’s an industry-standard reply that no one really looks at or thinks about these days, I reckon. And hence, venues, ticketing agents, cinema operators have all been able to get away with this great money-spinner.

In days of yore, when we migrated from paper to computerised ticketing, there was an increase in ticket prices as a matter of operational cost. Booking fees were not added. Is this because, based on GV’s explanation, a computerised system was not to the benefit of the customers but a needed upgrade for the operator? OK, let’s buy that for now. So for the customer, there were no changes. He still had to go to the box office to buy a ticket.

With the advent of phone reservations, everything changed, and this is when booking fees were introduced. For the convenience of the customer, venues, ticketing agents, etc (is there a collective word for this group??) had to hire extra staff to man the telephones. OK, I’ll accept that.

Then came the Internet and e-commerce. If this was say…1999, I probably wouldn’t be complaining. E-commerce was new, not many companies had figured it out, there weren’t many web developers who could integrate a payment gateway, banks weren’t on the bandwagon, customers were few and weary.

But this is not 1999. It’s 2010!! And now, I’m furious a booking fee still exists. An e-sales channel is essential to almost any business today. I would bet my entire life savings that none of these organisations would dare remove it now. Yes, it is to the customer’s convenience, but it is also a huge source of income for operators. This was acknowledged by GV. In 2007!!!

“Golden Village takes pride in serving our customers in every way possible and we know that they use the internet both as a key information source and as a ticket booking channel…” says Mr. Kenneth Tan, Managing Director of Golden Village Singapore (Press release, http://www.gv.com.sg, 2007)

The front and back end have long been integrated, administration and maintenance are almost negligible, and if Sistic’s system is anything to go by, the customer’s booking gateway is almost identical to the staff’s. Therefore, there really isn’t a separate system to maintain or develop. The increasing cost of a cinema/concert ticket should’ve covered all the above.

And we all know this – Internet bookings increases revenues and cuts operational costs. Once you’ve confirmed and made a purchase, the dollars are already earned. Operators can hire less staff, and sell tickets a lot faster, finite as it is.

If these organizations still believe that a booking fee is justifiable, then I’d like to hear them explain how the travel industry has been able to embrace this technology and even offer discounts for using the Internet. And don’t say it’s because they no longer have to use agents. That’s illogical. I could walk into Hyatt and get a room but if I booked it online, I could’ve gotten a discount.

So Dear Golden Village, Sistic, Ticketmaster, and all applicable organisations,

Kindly tell me why we still need to pay a booking fee. You know that I’m not the first customer to complain and this has been a long running issue. I..no, the Public deserves a good explanation and you need to do right by your customers. Right now.