Saturday, 25 October 2014

Persuading students to study engineering a challenge: Prof Lui

Professor Lui Pao Chuen, the recipient of the IES Lifetime Engineering Award, said that excellent education and employment prospects are key to drawing more people into this field.
By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia24 Oct 2014

Persuading students and their parents that an engineering degree will lead to good jobs and ample career progression is a problem that Singapore is currently facing, according to Professor Lui Pao Chuen.

Prof Lui was speaking at the Institution of Engineers Singapore's (IES) annual dinner on Friday (Oct 24), where he received the Lifetime Engineering Award.

He said that over the last 20 years, interest in science and engineering has declined among young people around the world - including Singapore. He said this was because many students prefer business and accounting courses as they are easier to score in, and the finance sector pays fresh graduates better.

But in the last three years, there has been a revival of interest in engineering in Singapore - the number of bachelor of engineering graduates will hit 5,000 in 2015, about 3,000 more than in 2000. He added that excellent education and employment prospects are key to drawing more people into this field.

With upcoming infrastructure developments, Prof Lui said it is an exciting time to join the profession: "We are going to have a new airport in the east, a new port for the PSA on the west and the MRT lines will connect the country in a much more convenient fashion.

"The number of engineering challenges ahead is so much higher than in the past and we believe this will be a draw for young people to want to create things."

Library@orchard returns

library@orchard scores with books and looks
Facility is back after 7-year break, with its collection focused on design
By Huang Lijie, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2014

AFTER a seven-year hiatus, the much-loved library@orchard is back and looking better.

Opened yesterday, the two-storey library on the third and fourth floors of the orchardgateway shopping mall is a chic, cosy space that would look right at home in the pages of a trendy magazine or book on design.

Sleek, curvilinear white shelves, buff bamboo floors and black walnut chairs with leather seats from home-grown furniture label Air Division - the chair retails at more than $1,600 - are among features that lend the public library in Orchard Road a fresh, sophisticated look.

The collection of books and magazines also stands out from those at other public library branches with its focus on design, including fashion, graphic and interior design - which caters to a fashion-conscious crowd.

Of the about 100,000 fiction and non-fiction books available, more than 45,000 are design-related and 46 magazine titles are new and exclusive to library@orchard, including cult art and design magazines such as Designo, BITE and Works That Work.

The previous library@orchard in Ngee Ann City closed in 2007.

Zuckerberg springs a surprise with Q&A in Mandarin

The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2014

BEIJING - Facebook may be banned in China, but the co-founder of the world's largest social network appears determined to win over hearts and minds in Beijing, and in Mandarin too.

Mr Mark Zuckerberg surprised a hall full of Chinese and international students when he held a short question-and-answer session, in Mandarin, at the elite Tsinghua University.

The gesture elicited applause from the shocked crowd, a video of the event he posted yesterday showed. Kicking off with the words "Hello, everyone" in Chinese, the 30-year-old went on to discuss topics including his philosophy on founding a company and his view of Chinese innovation.

He also spoke about personal matters such as his favourite colour and Chinese dish and the Chinese- American family of his wife, Priscilla Chan.

"I want to study Chinese culture," he said. "Studying the language helps me study the culture. So, I'm trying to learn the language. Also, I like a challenge."

New book traces Chiam's road to Parliament

By Leong Weng Kam Senior Writer, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2014

THE first instalment of a two-part biography of veteran politician Chiam See Tong, titled Let The People Have Him, is being released today.

The 232-page book traces the period from his birth in 1935 to his winning the Potong Pasir seat in 1984 at his fourth attempt to get into Parliament.

It is written by Mr Loke Hoe Yeong, 29, the assistant secretary-general of Mr Chiam's Singapore People's Party (SPP) and an associate fellow at the European Union Centre - a think-tank to promote research on the EU set up by the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University in 2008.

Mr Loke said on Wednesday the book involved three years of research, interviews and writing.

"I thought of writing Chiam's biography soon after the 2011 General Election because there has been no book written about him and I believe his story deserves to be told," he said.

Mr Loke, who met Mr Chiam through a friend and joined the SPP two years ago, described Mr Chiam's story as being very much a history of the political opposition in post-Independence Singapore. In the preface, he said he decided to write the biography to also "present a different side to the mainstream narrative of Singapore's political history".

He conducted at least six interviews with Mr Chiam, each lasting several hours, and also spoke to his wife Lina Chiam, who is now a Non-Constituency MP.

In the 2011 elections, Mr Chiam moved from Potong Pasir - which he had held since 1984 - to helm an SPP team in what was an unsuccessful bid to capture Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. He was, until then, Singapore's longest-serving opposition MP.

Mrs Chiam, the SPP vice-chairman, contested in Potong Pasir in 2011 and lost narrowly, but entered Parliament as a Non-Constituency MP.

Solving Asia's gas conundrum

By Maria Van Der Hoeven, Published The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2014

TWO intertwined revolutions, both centred on Asia, are remaking our world. The surge of emerging economies has lifted more than 500 million Asians out of poverty so far this millennium. But as that growth expands the global economy, increased use of fossil fuels is leading to higher costs and environmental burdens that call into question the sustainability of that energy use.

Over the longer term, the whole world - Asia included - must shift from fossil fuels to a low-carbon energy system that features more efficient use of energy. But in the medium term, gas can play a more important role in Asia. That shift will be challenging, but the region can overcome those challenges.

First, here is what Asia cannot count on: cheap, abundant gas unleashed by the shale revolution. While some North American liquefied natural gas (LNG) will cross the Pacific - probably sooner than later - it will not be enough to supply the entire region and it will be pricey. New supply-side investment will relieve some of that cost premium, but, at the same time, we can all see the ongoing geopolitical turmoil in Ukraine and the Middle East, either of which could tighten LNG markets.

What shows no sign of ending is growth in Asian gas demand. In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects Asia to be responsible for about half of all new gas consumption this decade. In the central scenario of our World Energy Outlook, by 2035 the region will burn an additional 750 billion cu m of gas - slightly more than the current US production. Not just shale gas production, but all US production today.

So reliance solely on North American exports is a pipe- dream. The overwhelming majority of shale gas produced in North America will be consumed there. And supply from other markets will prove a financial burden. Gas transportation is subject to the laws of physics: long-distance LNG shipments are costly and so Asia will pay dearly if it remains reliant on gas from faraway places. But Asia has two ways to avoid competing at top price for cleaner-burning natural gas: Use less of it and find more of it. The good news is that both of these solutions can be met in the region.

Canada to step up fight against terror

Gunman in Parliament attack was on watch list, had criminal record
The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2014

OTTAWA - Canada's Prime Minister vowed that the country would "not be intimidated" after a reported extremist stormed Parliament and killed a soldier, the nation's second "terrorist" attack in three days.

He told the House of Commons yesterday that the government will expedite plans to give more powers of detention and surveillance to security agencies.

World leaders condemned the attack, with US President Barack Obama expressing "solidarity" with Canada and British Prime Minister David Cameron saying he was "appalled" by it. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the news was "extremely disturbing" while Singapore said the attacks underscored the need for countries to remain vigilant in dealing with terrorist threats.

The gunman, whose name was on a terror watch list, attempted to force his way into Canada's Parliament in Ottawa on Wednesday before the assembly's sergeant-at-arms shot him dead.

The incidents heightened fears that Canada, which announced this month it would send six jets to take part in United States-led air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had been targeted in a reprisal.

On Twitter, followers of ISIS warned of more attacks to follow.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper insisted that "Canada will never be intimidated".

"In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe," he said in a TV address to the nation late on Wednesday.

Friday, 24 October 2014

S'pore 'must learn to fight dark forces of prejudice'

Global religious, ethnic issues set to worsen before improving: Tharman
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

EVEN as Hindus in Singapore celebrated Deepavali yesterday, the ominous winds of intolerance and prejudice were blowing around the world, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

That is why people everywhere, especially in Singapore, must learn to fight those dark forces and forge societies based on mutual understanding and openness, he said.

Wishing all Hindus a happy Deepavali in a Facebook post, Mr Tharman, who was in Beijing at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Finance Ministers' Meeting, took the chance to reflect on the deeper meaning of the occasion.

He said Deepavali, or the Festival of Lights, celebrates the "triumph of the light of learning and understanding over the darkness of ignorance and bigotry".

Unfortunately, the winds are blowing the other way today, with a rise in religious and ethnic tensions and conflicts around the world, he said.

"The headlines are about the Middle East - the growth of Islamist aggression against the Kurds, Christians and Yazidis, in defiance of the long history of Muslim civilisation that was, in fact, relatively free of the persecutions and holocausts that marked other civilisations; the surge in Sunni-Shia rivalry within the Muslim world; and the denial of Palestinian rights to co-existence," he noted.

And there are problems elsewhere too, said Mr Tharman, such as the continuing rise of the religious right in Hinduism and Christianity, as well as discrimination against minorities and the rise of ethnic nationalism in parts of Europe and Asia.

These problems are likely to worsen and last many years before they get better, he warned, adding: "We cannot just hope for a better world."

Cycling can be viable transport mode: Khaw

By David Ee, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

CYCLING should not be just a recreational pursuit, but also a viable transport option for short trips around Singapore, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.

He wrote on his blog that the Government wants Singaporeans to be able to cycle "to the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station".

"To do so, we must make such trips safe and pleasant," he said. "Cities are increasingly finding it important to make themselves friendly to pedestrians and cyclists."

He praised both European capitals as good examples of cities with "active mobility", where walking and cycling make up over half of all modes of transport.

In contrast, cycling makes up just 1 per cent to 2 per cent of transport modes here, he noted.

Rising tide of litter on S'pore's shorelines

One group nets 14,400kg worth so far this year
By Feng Zengkun, Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

A SINGLE environmental programme's volunteers have picked up 14,440kg of trash from the shores of Singapore and Pulau Ubin since the start of the year. The haul by volunteers of the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore (ICCS) is just 8kg shy of the rubbish they cleaned up from the coasts for the whole of last year.

This is despite fewer volunteers and shorter distances canvassed so far this year, going by ICCS statistics. The figures also seem to show that the littering has become worse over the past decade, with the average weight of rubbish collected per volunteer rising from 3.1kg in 2002 to 4.2kg last year.

The average weight of trash picked up per metre of coastline is even more stark, tripling from 0.25kg to 0.74kg in the same period.

Environmentalists said the efforts of groups such as the ICCS and Nature Society have pushed back the tides of rubbish, but more can be done.

Mr Eugene Tay, who recently won the National Environment Agency's (NEA) EcoFriend award, said the waste's sources are still unclear. "I think the NEA should study the sources, such as whether fish farms are dumping the rubbish, and how much of it comes from beachgoers and Singaporeans littering into drains and canals going into the sea," said the founder and director of Green Future Solutions consultancy firm.

Temporary booms placed in some of the island's waterways to intercept floating waste going out to sea could indicate how much of the unsightly coastal trash is coming from inland, he suggested.

More seniors servicing private mortgages

Figure triples over 6 years to 15,500, but group still forms a minority
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2014

THE number of elderly home owners servicing private mortgage loans has ballooned in the past few years, as more people buy homes in their later years for investment.

According to data from Credit Bureau Singapore, there were 15,506 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 65 and above with outstanding mortgage loans from financial institutions in July this year. This is almost triple the July 2008 figure of 5,190.

These older home owners also make up a growing proportion of all residents holding bank mortgage loans: 3.15 per cent now, up from 1.84 per cent in 2008.

Retiree mortgage debt has been a cause for concern in countries such as the United States, where 30 per cent of people aged 65 and above had outstanding mortgages back in 2011.

But while there could be cause for concern, experts are not worried about the situation here, because older borrowers with outstanding mortgage loans still form a minority here.

At the same time, not everyone with an outstanding private home loan at age 65 or above is in financial difficulty, they said.

"(The increase) is a cause for concern only if loan holders aged 65 and above face a higher risk of difficulty in servicing their mortgage payment (during) retirement and are 'underwater' on their mortgages," said Singapore Management University economist Phang Sock Yong.

Instead, some retirees might have taken out mortgage loans for investment properties, which yield rental income, she said.

Experts also note that cooling measures aimed at limiting the tenure of a private loan will also prevent the numbers from rising much further.