How to Go Anywhere (Even in a Pandemic)

“It was the done thing to travel at that age. The different stellar systems were spectacular but you could see just as good a view in virtual, and he still didn’t really understand what people saw in actually having been in any particular system.” These lines from Iain M. Banks’ The Player Of Games reflect what many futurists dream about – the age when VR is so immersive that physical travel is all but impractical. But until recently, virtual travel was the domain of enthusiasts. Still, the vision is increasingly becoming reality. 

Virtual reality (VR) technology has been steadily improving over the years, and travel is poised to become its “killer app”. Who wouldn’t want, at least sometimes, to skip airport queues, red-eye flights, tiny hotel rooms and just enjoy exploring new places? Yet, breakthrough technologies always take time to catch up with the imagination.

Take the VR Plunge
I’ve been experimenting with virtual travel since the first modern headsets hit the market. But after COVID-19 broke out and all international travel ceased, I came to really appreciate the power of VR. As someone who is used to jetting around, being stuck at home made me feel like a fish out of water. That’s when my high-fidelity Oculus headset came to the rescue! 

I started revisiting places I knew from the past but could no longer go to: New York, San Francisco, Bangkok, Barcelona, among others. Surprisingly, even though the experience was virtual, it created the feeling of presence and allowed me to “walk” through streets I missed. Encouraged, I started exploring cities that were on my to-do list – Venice, Osaka and New Orleans were the first stops on my digital journey around the world. 

Presence
I enjoyed walking virtual miles through these cities, learning their history, geography and architecture. And now I would even be comfortable to give a tour to someone visiting these places for the first time. While VR travel is a new and different experience, it can certainly provide a sense of wonder and adventure that we crave. And although VR may not be quite as “real” as experiencing a place with its crowds, sounds, smells and tastes – it works well for a quick run around the city and a glimpse of its landmarks (which is what many travellers limit themselves to anyway).

Travel Anywhere
Actually, I’m not alone in my virtual travels. Take the example of The Agoraphobic Traveller, Jacqui Kenny. Unable to physically travel because of her condition, Kenny realised her dream of exploring the world ­– with Google Street View. Recently, iconic travel magazine National Geographic launched exciting guided VR tours around the world. VR venues are also drawing ever larger crowds to concerts, shows and education events. 

The COVID-19 situation has accelerated technological trends and the adoption of new habits and behaviours. Hence, while VR travel is not yet at the level experienced by Iain M. Banks’ spacefaring protagonists, we can already participate in that promised future – now.

First published in the IT Society Magazine from the Singapore Computer Society

From Healthcare to HealthTech

For centuries, millions of people struggled to get adequate healthcare because they lived too far away from quality hospitals. Now, technology enables medical professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients regardless of where they live. And as regulations and innovations like remote surgery, drone drug delivery and portable scanners mature, having an always-on care anywhere may well become a reality. In fact, I regularly send data from wearable devices and annual checkups to my doctors to get their professional advice. I also educate myself on the latest diet, exercise and lifestyle with quality information and research available from the Internet.

Medical Attention Anytime, Anywhere
But that’s not all. Not too long ago, I experienced first-hand a basic form of telemedicine – one of the technologies poised to transform healthcare in the coming years. I was jolted awake one night at 3am by my wife who was gently but urgently shaking me. She was feeling severe pain in her back, and asked for any help I could think of. I frantically looked through our first aid kit, but was clueless which pills could help.
On impulse, I started a videoconference with my dad – one of the best general practitioners in his country. It was afternoon in Europe and he was still at work. After asking my wife a few questions, he made a diagnosis – neuralgia, pain caused by a nerve stuck between bones and muscles. Using the camera to show him our medical supplies, he picked a few medications that could alleviate the pain and treat the condition. Within 30 minutes, my sweetheart was able to go back to sleep.

New Treatment Possibilities
My other remarkable experience with the new biomedical technologies took place when I accidentally broke my tooth in half (yes – that hurt). The x-ray looked nasty – and a few years ago, it would have been impossible to treat this kind of damage. To my surprise, the dentist used a scanner to produce a digital model of my tooth and 3D-printed the missing part, which fitted into the rough contours of the broken bone perfectly. Seeing and going through the whole procedure left me with an absolute sense of wonder.

The Promise Of Better Quality Of Lives
However, compared to the cutting-edge implants that allow people to feel the touch, smell the scent, and see the world around them; my 3D-printed tooth is nothing. Bionic implants are not only increasingly enabling people who struggle with disabilities to lead productive lives, but also outperform “natural” ones. The famous TED talk by the MIT engineer Hugh Herr showed him running, dancing and rock climbing with the new generation of bionic prostheses.
Indeed, progress in medicine has been so rapid that even predictions promising radical lifespan extension from futurists such as Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey De Grey, have started to draw a second glance. Believe them or not, there is no denying that HealthTech advances have empowered us to live longer and lead more fulfilling lives. The future of HealthTech is truly exciting.

First published in the IT Society Magazine from the Singapore Computer Society

The Old Temple

The Sri Thendayuthapani started as a small shrine in the 19’s century Singapore. Today, it’s one of the most magnificent temples in the city and an important monument to its long cultural heritage.

In the mid-1800s, a fairly large number of newcomers to Singapore arrived from the region of India called Chettinad. A lot of them were merchants and bankers by trade who fit very well into the commercial scene of the cosmopolitan melting pot. The Chettiars, as they were called, built a small temple to observe Hindu holidays, which over time grew into the splendid piece of architecture we know.

Just like back then, today the Sri Thendayuthapani temple often attracts massive processions of people who come to celebrate together. The place is at its most active during the holiday of Thaipusam, an important occasion in Southeast Asia. The tradition is observed by devotees of other religions as well, who come to fulfil their wows together – one of the most heart-warming sights in modern Singapore, that is definitely something to look forward to seeing again once the world goes through the current health crisis.

Every Company Is A Digital Media Company

Your Organisation, My Organisation, Our Organisation – They are All Digital Media Companies
Today every organisation we know is essentially a tech company – whether it builds gadgets, develops apps, offers legal services or cooks food. Similarly, with powerful digital tools and platforms available to virtually everyone, every business is a media company – it has never been easier and more important for corporations as well as start-ups to communicate with customers and the public. Yet, few are doing so. What is stopping these organisations from becoming great storytellers?

Everyone Has an Interesting Story
Many firms, especially the ones working in traditional and business-to-business trades, aren’t confident that people will find what they do exciting. However, I have yet to find an industry that cannot offer something compelling to learn.

For instance, in the last 30 minutes, I’ve been browsing an Instagram profile of a large shipping company. A shipping company, you ask? Indeed, I’m not someone who spends time researching this kind of content –  as long as my online shopping packages arrive safely. But the beautiful pictures of gigantic liners passing along breathtaking skylines and exotic landscapes drew me in. Before I realised, I was watching videos about complex global supply chains, reading interviews with data scientists who optimise routes, learning about innovative carbon-neutral freighters and discovering how blockchain is used to manage containers. The logistics industry is so exciting that I would love to work in it!

Everyone Can Make an Impression
And that is not all. I’ve been able to lead a healthier life – thanks to information from life sciences labs, discover how new compounds and materials shape the city around me and get solid entrepreneurship advice from law consultancies. It is possible that the curiosity-invoking contents from these companies have taught me just as much as my school and university did – and, at the same time, planted their brands in the mind of a potential client – me.

Everyone Will Do Well to Get Started
It is true that digital media can be confusing with new information constantly calling for our attention, and websites, apps and platforms appearing out of nowhere every day. Yet, the fundamentals of marketing haven’t changed as much as many may think and are still based on a few simple principles.

  • Produce content about the industry you know a lot about – in the form of videos, images and the written word.
  • Deliver it across spaces where people spend a lot of time – mobile phones are a good place to start.
  • Adapt the content to the context.
  • Share knowledge and good advice ahead of selling – when customers trust you, they will come.

These rules stay at the core of marketing communications even as technology changes through the years – they were true before the invention of radio and will continue to be true when we spend vacations in virtual reality.


First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

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Agent 0101: Superhero of the Digital Age

For years, millions of people immersed themselves in stories about special agents, and are mesmerised by characters such as James Bond, Beatrix Kiddo and Jason Bourne. Today, Agent 007 has become the archetype for someone who fights powerful and cunning villains, often facing great odds, but ultimately prevails – thanks to exceptional wits, resourcefulness and, of course, advanced tech. Unsurprisingly, the charming appeal of the figure is driving many to secretly wonder what it would be like to have a similarly exciting and thrilling job.
For much of human history, jobs of security specialists entail physically operating in the domain they are securing – travel to a faraway city, safeguard the location, then neutralise the suspect. As the world becomes more digitally connected, security has a new added dimension.
Securing the digital infrastructure has become just as important as the world outside the window, if not more – lower your guard and an intruder will infiltrate the network, copy valuable trade secrets, steal hard-earned money and even compromise the security of your physical environment which is increasingly filled with objects connected to the net.
However, unlike Agent 007 who roams the streets in a luxury supercar, Agent 0101 – our present-day agent – brandishes a sleek laptop to patrol virtual realms for signs of hackers.

Superheroes Wanted
Cybersecurity is rapidly becoming one of the most exciting fields in technology. As an emerging discipline, its constant evolution offers many opportunities for growth. Combined with heightened awareness of its importance, cybersecurity specialists are in high demand and greatly valued by organisations. No wonder so many tech professionals are showing keen interest in cybersecurity. Question is, what does it really take for one to have a successful career as Agent 0101?

Superhuman Skills Needed
Cybersecurity is a complex discipline that often requires a combination of very different skills.

Technical Know-how
To start with the obvious, technical knowledge is essential for someone operating in the digital domain.

  • A strong grasp of programming languages such as C++, Java and PHP is fundamental for a sound understanding of what is going on in the system backend.
  • Knowledge of how malware works enables the guardian to identify threats and secure networks in times of crisis.
  • A good understanding of cloud technologies and IoT is becoming crucial since many companies are increasingly relying on distributed computing.

Business Savviness
Yet, the technical excellence is just one part of the cybersecurity skill set. After all, safeguarding complex networks calls for a complete approach.

  • A solid insight into how organisations operate, their structure and the way they conduct their business ensures that devised solutions are tailored to meet the organisation’s needs and achieve optimum impact.
  • An appreciation for the processes that are essential for their success, as well as what makes them vulnerable. This way, the agent has a good grounding of not only the “How” but also the “Why” of a potential attack and move fast to mitigate or prevent it.

Interpersonal Skills
This leads to two other important traits of the cybersecurity expert – emotional intelligence and people skills.

  • Empathy for the motivations, psychology and thinking behind hackers’ actions helps the cyber-agent to stay one step ahead and beat them at their own game.
  • Being a strong communicator is handy when it comes to explaining complex aspects of the job to colleagues, put everyone on the same page, get necessary resources and enjoy a faster career progression.

1010_Skills_Infographic.jpg

Lots of fun guaranteed
As we see, just like Agent 007, the job of Agent 0101 offers an incredible mix of fun and excitement. Be warned though that the job also has its share of challenges and demands, like ceaseless learning and mastering of new skills. The good news is, for those of you who can rise above it all, you will have a chance to embark on an adventure just as thrilling as one of Ian Fleming’s books.
Indeed, to do well in this field, you will need to be a technologist, a consultant and a people person all at once – just like superheroes with their supernormal powers.

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

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Do You Speak Data?

Data literacy is fast becoming as important as writing or math. It has been compared to gold, oil and other precious resources of the world. Today, data skills are essential not only for engineers and researchers, but also business workers, entrepreneurs and, increasingly, creative professionals. However, working with data can be challenging even for technical specialists, let alone for people from other backgrounds. So where does that leave us?
Before you jump to the conclusion that data is not for you, perhaps you can draw some inspiration from my experience of learning and later teaching this important skill set.

Speaking the Language of Data
I immersed myself in the early Web when dial-up Internet was introduced. Among other interests, the Internet sparked my passion for learning new languages and connecting with people around the world. Subsequently, working in different countries further spurred my determination to pick up local languages and use them to share the amazing world of technology with my friends.

Fast forward to several years ago, I joined the tech industry. As it happens, the years I spent in the industry were characterised by the emergence of Big Data. One day, a colleague who worked in analytics introduced me to SQL. I recall staring at a barrage of symbols and commands, and imagining not ever producing anything similar.

Then, I started dabbling with this mysterious “Sequel”, and an unlikely analogy crystallised. Like every language I learnt – be it English, Spanish or German, each has its distinct grammar and vocabulary. And as long as these two pillars are mastered, the road to fluency becomes open. Similarly, I realised that SQL commands are in fact a tongue in its own right with its unique grammar and vocabulary.

Sharing about Learning the Data Language
This realisation turned a previously technical subject into something close to every human being – speaking languages. It helped me to learn SQL as well as relate to people who struggle to grasp it. So now, whenever someone asks me to explain SQL, I would approach it as if we were learning to converse in a new language – ask a question, get a reply, make a statement and so on.

And when people struggling with this technical subject can finally “have a chat” about it, I would feel really proud. It also heartens me to know that a training course which I created and deployed using this approach for my organisation stays relevant even after several years.

Hence from my experience, it shows that even the most technical subjects share parallels with concepts naturally intuitive to people – such as languages. Simply by applying such analogies, learning data skills can become a lot more accessible for everyone.

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

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Apps of Disruption: A new era for small businesses

These days, the annual release of increasingly powerful computer upgrades hardly surprises us anymore. The recent wave of technological disruptions however is more than just a bump up in specifications. Instead, it gives everyone access to business tools that were available to only a small number of wealthy corporations just a few years back. It is almost as if an invisible force has opened a jar with lots of bottled-up creativity that is bursting with all kinds of enterprises, startups, and freelance outfits. Now, with the lid off, the magical effect of technology is bringing down barriers of entry in almost every important business function – distribution, marketing and operations.

DISTRIBUTION OF WARES DIRECTLY AND GLOBALLY MADE EASY
Remember the early days when merely creating a decent webpage required advanced knowledge of HTML? Otherwise, the alternative of hiring someone to build it would mean a significant upfront investment. Today, you can simply build and launch a site for your latest business idea using WordPress and other similar visual website builders, all within a day. Or, easier still, set up a business profile on one of the major social media platforms. Crafting a compelling online storefront for prospective customers is now entirely accessible to anyone with the abundance of free or open-source solutions.

Regardless of whether you are looking to reach local, international or specific trade buyers, choices are many. For goods, merchants can reach local and international buyers through e-commerce platforms such as Carousell, Amazon and Shopify. Similarly, musicians can skip big labels and reach fans directly on Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Even traditional industries like dining are seeing the rise of online-only restaurants that operate exclusively through UberEats, GrabFood and other delivery services. Be it establishing an online presence or making business transactions, technology has put the tools within easy reach.

MARKETING YOUR BRAND WORLDWIDE AT AFFORDABLE COST
Those who still own a TV may have noticed that advertisements running during commercial breaks come mostly from large, well-known brands. This is because airtime on television remains incredibly expensive. Other traditional forms of marketing like buying print ads or classified announcements in magazines or newspapers are also beyond what most small businesses can typically afford. However, platforms such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and others have changed the game entirely. Not only do they allow anyone to promote their work for literally a few dollars, businesses can also choose to target people most likely to be interested in what they have to offer – linking them directly to prospective customers.

This dramatic cost reduction is just one aspect of the democratisation of marketing that technology has brought. What’s perhaps more important is that these new platforms provide intuitive self-service interfaces that give everyone the ability to design, create and analyse their ads without a steep learning curve. Anyone can be Don Draper with a personal advertising agency right on their smartphones.

OPERATING YOUR BUSINESS EFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY WITH TECH
Then there’s the nitty-gritty of running the business. On one hand, office operations such as accounting, invoicing and inventory management may sound trivial; on the other – how many potential entrepreneurs were turned off by the prospect of having to deal with these labour-intensive, expensive and tedious tasks?

Technology comes to the rescue again, compressing an entire back office into a few phone apps such as QuickBooks, On Shelf and Wave. These software don’t just help to keep costs low and free up more time for creative work, but also facilitate new viable business models, including one- person enterprises. What better use of technology can there be than helping people do what they do best?

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH ARE EVERYWHERE
As more incredible tools are delivered into our hands, there is every reason to look forward to even more opportunities in the future. As it is, we are seeing startups in Singapore offering 3D printing services today. Combined with increasingly lower prices and availability of intuitive modeling software, it is almost a certainty that on-demand manufacturing will bring back the maker in all of us – only now with the ability to earn a living.

Then there’s also Artificial Intelligence (AI), which many people still associate with sci-fi movies. In reality, powerful machine learning services from Google, Amazon and IBM are already readily accessible through the cloud – even on the cheapest laptop. And as with all things tech, access to AI will only become more affordable and more user-friendly for creators in the not so far future.

Yet, while we are truly at the very start of democratisation of tech and every industry – we should explore these new possibilities with a caveat. Even though some processes have been made simpler, certain elements like expertise and hard work stay unchanged and crucial. The fact remains that anyone can use the technology, but not everyone will be able to use it well. However, for those who have great ideas and skills to support it, the world is their market.

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

The Marina

Just a few years ago, the place on this photo was nothing but a barren desert. Today, this sprawling network of canals, winding walkways and residential communities is one of the largest marina areas in the world.

The Dubai Marina is in fact entirety man-made. After the developers excavated 3km of waterways from the sand, the water was carried all the way from the Persian Gulf to fill them. Top design consultancies from all over the world helped to leverage virtually every innovation in foundational technology and shield tunneling known today, for construction works. This mega-engineering marvel is adorned with several supertall structures that embrace a wide range of architectural influences.

Connected to the greater Dubai with a metro line and bus services, the area has become a favorite spot for both the locals as well as visitors. Despite many commercial centers and private residencies, the Marina is very walkable. There are over 8km of pedestrian promenades, dotted with cozy cafes, bars and restaurants that make for a pleasant leisurely stroll. On a hot day though, some might prefer a more refreshing commute by water and enjoy the spectacular views from the comfort of a boat.

Produced by Two Footsteps | Written by Vladyslav Koshelyev

Singapore Is Home

I arrived in Singapore in what seems like ages ago, imagining myself to be an adventurer exploring far lands of the east. The chatter of strange languages, intense smells of food markets and bright lights from towering skyscrapers were all incredibly exotic for a teenager from a quaint part of old Europe. Fast-forward to several years later, among family and close friends in Singapore, there is no place like home than this tiny red dot.

Tracing back, my first encounter with Singapore was a short break I took to escape from freezing winter winds. When my holiday in Singapore ended, I never really left. Enchanted by the Lion City, I wanted to come back and managed to secure a transfer to Singapore with my employer shortly after.

A WELCOMING HOME FOR BUSINESSES
Singapore works hard on attracting high-quality enterprises, and many have decided to set up their regional headquarters, data centres and engineering hubs here. The presence of these multinational companies coupled with a bustling local startup scene, which continues to get more innovative by the year, provide a firm foundation for a vibrant tech industry.
One of the key reasons why Singapore is a magnet for startups despite its small size is its incredible diversity. The multicultural society gives the market a depth that many larger cities simply don’t have. Win Singapore, and you would have created a base and built expertise required to expand across the entire region – or even globally.

AN INCLUSIVE HOME FOR TECH PROFESSIONALS
Prominent global companies, disruptive startups and rich cultural diversity have put Singapore in the same family of global hubs such as San Francisco, New York and London. For tech professionals like me, this presents a wealth of opportunities for career growth as well as exciting challenges to work on. But Singapore’s appeal to tech professionals from around the world is not all work. While career opportunities matter, it is the hard to quantify the charm that wins hearts and minds of many professionals in data, artificial intelligence and health over other tech hubs.
Despite being at the centre of the most complex continent in the world, the city is able to welcome and absorb every culture. My personal experience is one good example. Even though I came from a very different part of the world, I have found great friends, wise mentors and my life partner among the locals. My personal ties have made this city more than just a place to stay for me.

Truly, what can be better than being able to live, work and play in a place where some of the most exciting actions are unfolding?

First published in the IT Society Magazine by the Singapore Computer Society

Stones and Memories

The high gothic Albert memorial was built to commemorate the British prince by his wife, queen Victoria. The monument is designed with incredible detail and is one of the favorite places in London for tourists and as well as locals. The marble figures at its four corners represent Europe, Asia, Africa and America. While the structure is now covered in gold leaf, it remained covered in black paint for almost 80 years. Some believe, the sculpture was blackened on purpose to hide it from bombardments during world wars.

Right behind the memorial stands the Royal Albert Hall. For many years, it has remained an iconic venue where some of the most notable cultural events took place. Music concerts, award ceremonies, exhibitions and sport events never fail to attract large crowds. The architectural style of the building was inspired by Roman amphitheatres, and its enormous dome had to be built in facilities 200km outside of London and then transported to the city. Its size not only ensures that the hall can accommodate over 5000 people but also gives it a unique sounds that musicians love so much. Eric Clapton for instance, performed here over 200 times and said it now almost feels like playing in his backyard.