Archive | October, 2010

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.