Ira Glass on Storytelling

Over the weekend I caught up with my young-punk friends* David and Lisa, and we were gushing over how much we enjoy Brain Pickings, and they were saying how chuffed they were when Brain Pickings shared Dave's short film thing, and I thought I knew what they were talking about and went "uh-huh" very sagely --- but when I got home and looked at the link from Lisa, I realised, oops, that I hadn't seen it before, and also it's a perfect way to send people off into the work week.

So without further ado, here is Dave's short motion graphics piece, "Ira Glass on Storytelling":

* Dave and Lisa aren't really young punks. I just call them that because I like the sound of it.



Clocking time

There are two things that I've been doing these days when I work at home (in addition to, you know, the work). One is clocking time using Toggl; the other is pacing myself using the Pomodoro technique. This may sound like I spend a lot of time clicking "start" and "stop" on either timer, but using Toggl becomes quite intuitive once you've spent a day or so with it, and with the Pomodoro Time Management iPhone app, I barely remember the timer is running until it cues me with an excited "ding!".

I've eschewed time-clocking tools and apps for most years of freelancing because I didn't want to feel like I was clocking in and out of a factory or an office. (One of my temp jobs before university was working as a clerk in an electronics factory and we had to punch in and out on time cards, same as all the other non-office employees.) What made me change my mind now was realising that after freelancing for more than six years, I often have only a very vague idea of how much time I've put in on each assignment because I'm often juggling multiple projects at the same time. This way, at least I can tell people with some confidence exactly how much time the work takes out of me (and believe me, it's surprising sometimes).

As for Pomodoro, call it a last-ditch attempt to kill the procrastination monster that's plagued me for most of my life. (My flatmate in London can attest to that; her favourite line is, "I always thought she was this super-organised person, and after living with her, I found out she's always doing things at the last minute!") Pomodoro teases me with the reward of a five-minute break after every 25 minutes of solid work, which is great even if use those five minutes just to do the dishes or refill the water jug. More importantly, it helps to break up extended tasks (like long pieces of writing or editing) into more manageable portions, so I don't feel I'm spending all afternoon at it.

Even though I am. It's just a trick, I know.

Tick tock, tick tock, time for bed.

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Big city life

I came across this news headline "MRT lines to see weekend closures for upgrading works: Lui" today (via @STcom on Twitter) and I couldn't help but think, ah, just like London, where I used to subscribe to Transport for London's email updates on weekend Tube line closures for maintenance/ engineering works, so that I knew which lines to avoid when I went out. I guess Singapore has made it to global citydom after all, when commuters are getting used to regular MRT breakdowns (psst, Mana Rapid Transit is a pretty cool iPhone app for getting breakdown/congestion alerts) and subway lines have to be closed during official operating hours so that the work crews can keep up with the infrastructural wear and tear.

I'm not complaining (not too much, anyway). I'm saying we're there, kinda. Big city life means congestion and crowds and things breaking down here and there. (Although most big cities don't pay their municipal elected officials quite as much, nor give public service operators quite so generous a budget as Singapore does, to keep things running smoothly.)

Or does it? Yesterday I was reading "The Science of Quieter Cities" in the Atlantic, about research that various scientists and engineers are doing to see how architectural and urban design can make crowded, noisy cities less unpleasant, less grating on the ears (and the soul). We can all live together in close quarters, but we don't have to live miserably or in conditions that breed misanthropy. The individuals planning, building and living in cities just have to insist on healthier, more humane living environments --- and I don't mean just air-conditioning all our interiors.

Singapore the city-state is a phenomenally noisy place. A couple of months ago, I was walking one evening along Holland Road towards the Dempsey area, and it struck me that despite the passing traffic, I could hear crickets, a dense chorus of crickets, emanating from the thick jungly surroundings. Earlier this week, I was back at Dempsey, this time outside RedDot Brewhouse, and I pointed out the cricket sounds to my friend's husband, who lives in Adelaide. He's been visiting Singapore regularly since the late 1990s and, nodding in acknowledgement of the cricket noises, he remarked that on this trip he's been struck by how inescapable the urban noise now is. I wonder to myself if it's getting impossible to think. (See also Marcus Ng's piece "The Nature of Noise" on POSKOD.SG.)

I'm lucky. I'm typing this in my living room, in a flat on a very high floor, relatively immured from most street noise. I'm surrounded by several thousand residents within a five-minute walking radius, but from this vantage point I don't hear many of them. Just once in a while the neighbour's dog, people in the lift landing, the television or piano from someone's flat downstairs (or upstairs?), and the bus accelerating up the hill below. Mostly I hear the whirring of my fan.

The public housing flats where I live were built in 1970. We don't need sophisticated technology or newfangled ideas to make our neighbourhoods more liveable, or to make our trains run on time. We just need common sense and a little human sympathy applied to prevailing systems.



Silly writer is silly

I said something silly when I was speaking to a group of university students earlier this week. (I also spilled coffee on myself while their eyes were all trained on me, but that's another story.) These were university students nearing the end of a course on popular culture in Singapore, and I was supposed to talk about Singapore: A Biography, the writing of history, the role of memory, nostalgia and so on.

In the midst of some blatheration about the importance of everyday living spaces, and how heritage should be something alive, not dead and documented, I said frivolously, "I think we should blow up Orchard Road and start over." Which, for anyone reading this without their sarcasm-meter turned on, I of course did not mean literally, but that wasn't the reason I kicked myself later for saying it. No, it bugs me that I said it because I was implying that Orchard Road --- and its identikit malls, and its crowds, in all its tiresome glory --- wasn't 'real' culture, was somehow less worthy than everyday lived spaces like provision shops and coffeeshops and hawker centres. That shopping and mall culture was something we (as Singapore) should disown and eradicate.

Which, at its heart, is an unworthy, totalitarian impulse that I shouldn't give voice to, even in jest. We hear enough diktats in Singapore about what should or should not happen, should or should not be spoken. I don't need to be perpetuating that way of thinking. Less silencing, more speaking.