Charmaine’s Support Community

20 Oct

Photo from

I’ve been following Charmaine and her story ever since the blog URL started circulating early 2009 because a friend of mine knows her mummy, Cynthia, and sent the link to me.

Charmaine is a courageous, charming little girl from Singapore who suffers from neuroblastoma, a form of cancer mainly occurring in kids and a blog was created by Cynthia’s friend, Jolene, as a way of encouragement.

From encouragement, the blog took on a life of its own when more and more people started following the updates on Charmaine’s well-being. Soon after, Charmaine’s doctors gave her only a slim 20% chance of survival on the then-chemotherapy treatment unless she goes to the US for a procedure that can increase her chance of survival to 40 – 50%. The required sum was US$350,000 which came as a shocker to Cynthia.

Like many others, this new knowledge spurned us into action. We were passing on the message about this poor little girl, can somebody do something about it, can somebody help her out. Because Cynthia didn’t have so much money, and after much deliberation, she decided to appeal to the public for the funds to send her baby to New York for further treatment.

Singapore media picked up the story quickly. Readers started pouring in donations and raised a decent sum of $40,000. Another $60,000 was raised when local footballers decided to hold a charity match. AXN, a regional media company, found out about the story and produced a TV commercial appealing to the public for donations, adding popular local faces calling out to donors:

In July 2009, the targeted sum was met and this family of 3 (Charmaine, Cynthia and Charmaine’s brother, Jase) had to start planning for their trip to the US.

As we talk about online communities in class today, I can’t help thinking how an online community of sort was formed out of this – a sick little girl and a blog. The feistyprincess blog has a group of followers, and on Youtube, one can find videos made by people who found out about the story and just want to help out by publicising their homemade videos to their own social networks. The sum required to send little Charmaine off for treatment wouldn’t have happened if people didn’t pass around the message by word of mouth, hoping that by action in unity, some good can come out of it. And it did.

I still check back on the blog every now and then. Follow them on Facebook or check out their blog for latest updates.


On Pigeons and Broadband

17 Oct

Photo thanks: Getty Images


There was a time when I got really serious about wanting to train a carrier pigeon. It felt like a really cool idea, to be able to have your personal post-pigeon deliver little love notes to people you love, where ever they are, at home or abroad. When I got into the details of things and started wondering how I would do that, i.e. training the pigeon to go from one place to another when I am completely hopeless when it comes to direction, I tossed the idea into the bin.

In the face of a broadband era, handwritten or typewritten letters take on a digital form. You can stylise your ‘letters’ based on the font face, font type, font colour and background image to give them a personal touch.

In South Africa last year, an experiment was conducted to determine if pigeons are faster in transmitting 4GB worth of data or South Africa’s broadband DSL. The pigeons won wings down.

A repeat of this experiment was conducted in UK recently, this time with 300MB of data. Again, the pigeons defeated latest technology.

Seems like broadband is a hot topic of negotiation even in Australia (and a hot one during the recent Federal Election), in the hopes of bridging the technology gap between the rural and the urban. Australia is no exception to this. Bringing broadband closer to rural Australia has been an on-going concern that even has critical health-related implications. Seems like the issue is more about attracting medical workers to rural areas and broadband being part of these workers’ set of needs.

Training pigeons may take a shorter time (for example, using ready-trained pigeons) than implementing full-out broadband across the country that can cost $6 billion but it seems the issue for rural Australia may be more than broadband alone.

Paypal and iPhone joint venture

10 Oct

Being back to graduate schoolafter 5-6 years of being in the industry, I realised how technology has better served the school system. Stuff like Supersearch on the University of Melbourne library system is really useful when I want to access ejournals to find out what other academics are writing about a certain topic (access for current staff and students only). Hard copy documents are typically image-scanned and archived on backup systems online.

Image scanners these days are able to detect texts and allow readers to copy and paste text easily from a scanned document. This means that the scanner doesn’t just read images but is able to convert the image into a text document. This was certainly not the case when mass consumer-targeted scanners were first released into the market in the 1990s.

Paypal has taken that one step further with its launch of an iPhone app just this Wednesday that allows people to take images of checks and credit them into their Paypal accounts.

Photo source: Getty Images

The popularity of this app is evident. Within 36 hours of its launch, $100k worth of checks have already been credited into people’s Paypal accounts.

Sometimes I get amazed by what Americans do – their ideas are wild yet applicable. The black hat part of me will be concerned about security issues (what if people edit images to change check numbers?) and privacy issues but they tend to have that all sorted out.

In any case, I am certainly looking forward to trying out this new technology when it hits closer to home, since it’s currently only available to U.S. residents.



What Will Become of These Children?

15 Sep

Why would anybody want to ruin their childhood?

What twisted humanity we have become to want to permanently destroy, traumatise a young life like that? On Oprah Winfrey Show episode, Oprah talked about the serious issue of child sex pornography, supplied by syndicates running child sex trafficking, and how there are vast numbers of people online who are secretly relishing in watching child pornography. She also shared that the latest scary trend is that there is a growing demand by child predators to watch these tortures take place live.

With the growth of online streaming websites such as Chat Roulette (equally disurbing, I find), live child pornography has taken the next stand in terms of popularity. There is some real and very serious issues here we need to grapple with.

On the show, the police interviewed had to go through websites after websites of disturbing images and their work is hardly complete even though the day is over. Resources to crack down these child predators are scarily low. And the number of predators just go on increasing.

Recently, Facebook was embroiled in a case where they failed to report an alleged child porn ring that was operating on its website. The shutting down of their operations on Facebook did little more other than protect the integrity of Facebook as a social networking platform. This week, Craigslist, U.S.’s top classified website, had its Adult section permanently shut down to crack down on child sex trafficking activities.

Because of this issue, Oprah set up the Child Predator Watch List. Within the first 48 hours of its launch, 2 child predators were arrested. The power of the media brought immediate attention and action because this is such a gripping issue.

It’s shocking but here’s the other thing that disturbs me. On one hand, the amount of publicity this issue is receiving leads people to take action, like what Oprah did.

On the  other hand, the black hat part of me wonders if too much publicity about such an issue will actually draw people’s curiosity to child sex pornography, giving the industry more demand. I certainly hope not and think we may be treading a fine line with the rise in awareness, but it is noteworthy, nevertheless.

We Will All Marry the Wrong Person

11 Sep

When WordPress featured this blog post, I was intrigued and just had to click on it. Actually, I uncreatively tweaked it, given the non-marital status that I have at this point. The actual post is called ‘We All Married the Wrong Person‘. I have to confess that human relations really fascinate me. Perhaps because I actually enjoy being analytical, at some point in my life I felt like I could ‘figure out’ some people. I was gravely mistaken. I have since come to realise that even psychology, the study of human behaviour, records statistics and come up with a mean of how people will behave under certain circumstances. However there are always the exceptions that bend the rule.

Human behaviour is no rocket science to be figured out. People can change due to their situations, the trauma they go through, the people they socialise with, the type of family background they have…and so much more. See, the variables are quite unnameable and those are all the things that can affect human behaviour. For those of you who are not married and assume you want to, don’t you also try to figure out everything about the person before you say yes?

Recently I met this guy from Germany in church. A bunch of us ended up having supper together after service and coincidentally we got on to the topic of relationships, which excited him and made him talk alot more. He shared that his grandparents came from a small town. They grew up together, went to school together and only had each other all their lives. It is also one of the most beautiful marriages he has ever seen. “We have too many choices these days and that confuses us,” he says. “We think that by having choices, it is a good thing but most of the time we don’t really know what we want nor know what is good for us.” This sentiment is echoed by Dr Haltzman in the article.

This also begs the question if marriage and love are all about us and what satisfy us.

In a world consumed by consumerism and choices, love has become another option. According to Dr Haltzman, we need to say, ‘This is the person I chose, and I need to find a way to develop a sense of closeness with this person for who he or she really is and not how I fantasize them to be.’ I am inclined to that statement. Most of the time, we forget that when we have expectations of a person or keep to a fantasised ideal of a person, we end up treating the person with less love and respect than they deserve.

Perhaps we will all marry the wrong person. That is because we know that humanity is fundamentally flawed. Instead, the thing we can control, and should control instead, is to be the right person to be married to instead of trying all sorts of way to try and change the other.

Up or Down?

1 Sep

I’m gonna start this post with an odd question: do you pull up or push down a toilet flush handle?


Under the insufficient lighting of the female toilet at the John Medley building in Melbourne University, there weren’t another soul except for myself, hence I found the time to take a closer look at the signage in the cubicle. It’s been 6 weeks at Uni and this is the first time I noticed that signage.

And indeed, under that dim lighting and the tiny fonts used, one has to bring her face closer to the sign in order to see it. I can’t imagine what the poor dears who forgot their eyeglasses have to go through to read it. I for one wouldn’t think of plastering my face any closer to anything in a toilet cubicle – it’s just way off and I’m not off my rockers. Yet.

Do you pull up to flush or down? I tend to pull down, and assume most people do likewise.

The tiny script there indicates ‘pull handle up for 30% water savings’ and ‘pull handle down for normal flush’. Typically, a half flush is 3 – 4.5L and a full flush is 6 – 9L worth of water. I could have saved more water for the Uni, but the texts were too tiny for any quick toilet goers to read, flush and buzz off. The eco girl has more to learn about Australia every other day!

Since we’re on the topic of toilets today, I randomly chanced upon a hot topic for folks in the northern hemisphere to figure out if the Australian toilet flushes the other way round. Don’t people have dinners to cook and friends to catch up with instead of wondering about these things? But anyways! If you have some minutes to spare, it might interest you to read a bit on it.

Holden and its New Green Baby

31 Aug

Green Car?

Perhaps the idea of a green still conjures up such an image. Being environmentally friendly and driving still does not go hand in hand for a lot of people. In an earlier post, I shared some car models that treat Earth a little better. Today, Holden just released news that they have upgraded their Commodore to a VE Series II, that runs on bio-ethanol.

What exactly is bio-ethanol? Apparently some people create it as fuel right in their household, although I wouldn’t recommend that for your car. Some good things about the Holden VE Series II Commodore, that any driver would be concerned about:

  • fuel-saving, up to 12% in improvement (of course a lot still depends on how you drive)
  • comes with Blue Tooth, wireless, cable and USB connections, to a music junkie’s delight
  • bio-ethanol fuel will be available from around 100 petrol stations by 2011

For drivers like myself, the big leap of faith will still be about the convenience that the vehicle can offer. After all, convenience is why one would get a car to begin with. I do foresee that with more stations providing greener fuel, it will be easier for people to make the switch to a greener car. What would get you to go on a greener car?

What’s Up There, Mother Earth?

22 Aug

A fuzzy looking earth?

Nope, this picture wasn’t captured when a cosmic storm passed through the solar system and decided to envelope Earth. Wanna take a second guess?

Those bits that you see hovering over Earth are satellites, all 6000 of them. They are the things that transmitted what you are reading right now (yes these very words) across the airwaves and allowing mass loads of data to be transferred via broadband connection across the globe every day. I don’t recall the Earth looking like this. The last mental image I’ve ever had was:

Quite a contrast isn’t it.

Even though there are 6000 satellites out there, only 800 are operational. Some of the bits are actually debris from collisions and accidents. Nobody is taking them down because it’s too expensive but somebody’s got to do it before the overcrowding causes more collisions in the future.

We’re not just junking up the Universe, here on Earth there are other wastes to consider. Every year, billions of mobile phones and computers go to landfills because of their high turnover rate. How often do you change your mobile phone and computer? Probably once every 3 – 5 years, typically, and you are not fully to blame. Technology changes so quickly that before your very eyes, Windows 7 will go out of the windows very soon;  4GB RAM will be laughable in 2 years’ time and people would have forgotten what an Intel processor is. Most of these electronic wastes we create contain elements of toxic such as mercury and lead, which can get into the soil and contaminate our waters. It will also endanger the lives of those workers at landfills and extra precaution have to be taken.

Will technology slow down, come to a peak and stay there? At the rate we are going, I doubt so but I also do not have the vision to see further than that. I just hope that as technology progresses, so will efforts be made at the same pace to ensure the sustainability of the Earth, for the sake of the next generation. Extend the shelf life of your purchases by buying smartly. Dispose of your computers and mobile phones responsibility and let not the toxic e-waste situation such as that in China continue.

Here’s some practical things you can do:

  • Dispose your old computers at a recycling centre
  • Dispose your mobile phones at recycling centre
  • If your electronics can still be used, give them away to Salvos cos it gets a new lease of life

Being Green and Going Tech

14 Aug

Photo thanks:

Technology has changed the way we communicate and interact with one another. I used to keep a Nokia 6300 for the longest time because that’s what a mobile phone should do isn’t it – keep you connectible to people even on the move, serving it’s basic functions of being a phone. Who really needs a smartphone? Why would I want to keep my time on the move glued to my phone, staring at the tiny screen, playing silly games and checking up on the internet when I can go home and do it on a bigger screen and keep my eyesight good for a longer time? Also, with the mobile phone industry getting people to keep changing phones every other year and creating more waste that goes into the landfills, I certainly wasn’t too keen to contribute to that.

But owning a iPhone 3GS now completely changed my life. Well sorta. It changed the way I communicate with people, stay in touch with a certain group of people (thanks to Whatsapp, a ‘free’ messaging application that allows you to send  text/photo/contact/location messages to friends around the world through internet) and be a total cam whore when it comes to uploading photos on the move, which is pretty good news for my stalkers, if any. Checking on Facebook on the move becomes a way of life; and though I usually would not think of paying for any apps (I was quite resistant to that idea), I actually paid US$2.99 for BeJeweled Blitz (after I got hooked on it through Facebook) along with some snazzy photo-taking applications just so I can take cool, retro looking photos such as the Toycamera.

The iPhone is the perfect accompaniment for any girl because now, we have a reason to dress up our phone as well with options and choices of all the fabulous-looking covers available out there. Some of my favourites are those that have vintage looks. What other phone can you dress up in similar fashion to what you are wearing? But I am detracting from topic here. How can I own an iPhone yet stay true to my greener alter ego?

Perhaps the best part of the iPhone for me, as an eco chick, is the fact that somebody came up with a solar charger for girls who use internet on the move. As it’s common knowledge that the iPhone use up battery really quickly, there is no better option than to get a solar charger for the phone. Novothink came up with Surge which looks cyber spacey yet functional so you still look good with the iPhone, with an extra 79 grams of weight to keep it going through the day on a high usage. You also get to choose from 5 different colours.

Photo thanks: Novothink

For those of you who dream of staying out in the gardens (absorb the nature and sun type of thing) with your laptop and lament that it’s impossible to do so because you can’t charge up, here’s a solar charger for your laptop buy Voltaic. This will get you enjoying the best of both worlds – technology and staying true to your green principles.

So in a way, like it or not, I gotta admit that being green and keeping up with technology does go hand in hand at times, especially when inventors keep coming up with ways to keep energy efficient and green and making it possible for greenies like myself to be part of this techy community. And oh, I’m definitely aiming to keep my iPhone for a long long time to come. Who needs the iPhone 4 and it’s bulletproof skin anyway? I’m heading to the botanics, not war zone.

Greener Automobiles

6 Aug

With rising oil prices and decrease in the supply of petroleum (think BP and the spill, gosh!), the comeback of the electric car seems like the most ideal solution. Wait, did I say comeback? Yes. Apparently, the electric car did make its appearance during a period of car history but was eradicated after a short stint, and the big oil industry players were cited as the key culprits for the death of the electric car.

Thanks to technology and increased research and development, some key market players are pitching their markets and working towards increasing demand for electric cars. China and the U.S. are 2 major markets with huge, dense populations that are working hard at promoting the implementation of electric cars in a bid to reduce the impact of gasoline-run vehicles on the environment. It is such an important issue that China is willing to pump in $15 billion to promote greener automobiles.

If you’re planning on buying your ride, why not consider such a green option? In Australia, REVA is the only option at this point. Else, there are hybrid models such as the Honda Civic Hybrid, the Toyota Prius and the Lexus GS450h to consider.

If you’re still deciding or want to be part of a community of action-takers, join Plug In America or be part of Facebook’s electric car-loving community!