Sunday, March 31, 2019

The emerging 737 MAX scandal, explained

It’s more than bad software.

By Matthew Yglesias


Mar 29, 2019

Boeing executives are offering a simple explanation for why the company’s best-selling plane in the world, the 737 MAX 8, crashed twice in the past several months, leaving Jakarta, Indonesia, in October and then Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March. Executives claimed Wednesday, March 27, that the cause was a software problem — and that a new software upgrade fixes it.

But this open-and-shut version of events conflicts with what diligent reporters in the aviation press have uncovered in the weeks since Asia, Europe, Canada, and then the United States grounded the planes.

Warnings of a dark side to AI in health care

Photo by Unsplash
In a paper published on Thursday (Mar 21) in the journal Science, the researchers raise the prospect of “adversarial attacks” — manipulations that can change the behavior of A.I. systems using tiny pieces of digital data.

30 March, 2019

NEW YORK — Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved a device that can capture an image of your retina and automatically detect signs of diabetic blindness.

This new breed of artificial intelligence (A.I.) technology is rapidly spreading across the medical field, as scientists develop systems that can identify signs of illness and disease in a wide variety of images, from X-rays of the lungs to C.A.T. scans of the brain. These systems promise to help doctors evaluate patients more efficiently, and less expensively, than in the past.

Similar forms of artificial intelligence are likely to move beyond hospitals into the computer systems used by health care regulators, billing companies and insurance providers. Just as A.I. will help doctors check your eyes, lungs and other organs, it will help insurance providers determine reimbursement payments and policy fees.

Friday, March 29, 2019

What’s life like after climate change? One city offers plenty of clues

Residents collect water from a communal tap in a settlement
outside of Cape Town.

29 MARCH, 2019


In the flat where I stayed in Cape Town last month, the bathtub felt like a relic of a lost civilisation. It may never be used again. Beside it was a shower containing an egg timer. The two-minute wash has been standard here since the recent three-year drought. In the city’s public bathrooms, a dribble comes out of the tap. Posters everywhere warn against wasting water.

This is what adapting to climate change looks like. Last year, Cape Town nearly became the first big city on earth to run dry. Daily water rations dropped to 50 litres per person per day, with the spectre of 25 litres if supplies ran out on “Day Zero”.

The drought broke just in time, but the city’s planners now expect permanent water scarcity. Rationing, which initially felt like wartime austerity, has become normal.

Debt-relief can help poor make better decisions: Study



26 MARCH, 2019

SINGAPORE — A group of academics has called for a debt-relief programme to be made available to the less well-off here, after a comprehensive study showed that debt takes a huge toll on their ability to make good decisions.

Participants of a first-of-its-kind study by the Social Service Research Centre (SSR) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) viewed each debt as a separate “mental account”, according to the study released on Tuesday (March 26).

Being in the red in many debt accounts was “psychologically painful”, said the study’s authors, who are researchers from the NUS and the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). Thinking about their debts also increased their anxiety and worsened cognitive performance.

“This psychological impact may prevent the poor from making the right decisions to get out of poverty, further contributing to the poverty trap,” said the study. Its findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America scientific journal.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Investor watchdog questions PUB after ‘serious concerns’ raised over takeover move for Tuaspring plant

By Kenneth Cheng

26 March, 2019

SINGAPORE — The Securities Investors Association Singapore (SIAS) has written an open letter to national water agency PUB about its move to take over Hyflux’s Tuaspringdesalination plant — if Tuaspring cannot fix its defaults by April 5 — after the firm’s investors raised “serious concerns”.

In its letter on Monday addressed to PUB chief executive officer Ng Joo Hee, SIAS president David Gerald said Hyflux’s retail investors were caught in a predicament, as the company possibly faces liquidation.

The SIAS is Singapore’s retail investor watchdog.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Singapore: Place or nation?

What makes a country a home? Is it emotional ties or purely economic self-interest?

June 19, 2006

[Note date. This is from 13 years ago. But may be pertinent in this bicentennial year. Is Singapore a nation or just a place?]

By For The Straits Times, Linda Lim

SINGAPORE'S economic development has never relied on its being a nation. First a colonial port where immigrant merchants and labour served the needs of the British empire, after independence in 1965 its economic policy still located the city-state within the regional trade and global production networks of foreign corporations.

Unlike Asia's other export-oriented 'developmental states' - Japan, South Korea and Taiwan - Singapore did not actively nurture or encourage a local capitalist class. Foreign and state enterprises were favoured, so 'national champion' outfits such as Toyota, Samsung and Acer never developed.

Instead, Singapore has always been a 'global city' - a place where parts and people are imported to produce goods and services that are exported to foreign consumers.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Can bringing young and old under one roof solve the world's housing crisis?

24 March, 2019

BRUSSELS — Home sharing initiatives that link cash-strapped young people with elderly home owners are becoming popular with governments around the world as they seek to tackle the twin crises of homelessness and loneliness, experts said on March 21.

Home sharing, which usually involves an older person offering a spare room at low cost to a young person in exchange for help and companionship, is increasingly seen as a solution to the problem of affordability faced by many countries.

Experiments in a number of countries suggest it could also alleviate loneliness among older people — a growing problem as populations age and more and more people live alone.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

When the benefits of statins outweigh the risks

By Jane E. Brody


24 March, 2019

NEW YORK — My column last April “Pros and Cons of Statin Therapy” has elicited nearly 700 online comments, many of them from people who accused me of selling out to Big Pharma.

Yes, statins are blockbuster drugs with sales in the billions, but some people question if they’re safe and effective. In this column, I will try yet again to explain my understanding of statins and help others deal sensibly with these potentially lifesaving drugs.

I do not own stock in any drug company, and no friend or relative works for one. My personal decisions and published statements about any medication are based on a thorough analysis of the best available medical evidence. Those decisions and statements may change if and when reliable new findings warrant. This is science, after all, and science is constantly evolving.

As I mentioned in last year’s column, I had taken a monthslong hiatus after more than a decade on a statin to see if it would relieve my periodic back pain. It did not. What it did do was allow my cholesterol level to soar back to a total of 248 milligrams per decilitre of blood and an LDL (the heart-damaging lipid) level of 171, 70-plus milligrams higher than it should be.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Americans are pessimistic about what life will be like in 2050. Here’s what they fear most.

The Daily 202 - 22 Mar 2019

with Joanie Greve and Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Americans, collectively, appear to be in a deeper funk about the future than Beto O’Rourke was after he lost his Senate race.
When adults are asked to think about what the United States will be like in 2050, they see the country declining in stature on the world stage, a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots and growing political polarization. They think health care will be less affordable, public education will be lower quality and retiring will be harder.

They fear the growing national debt, the likelihood of an attack that’s as bad or worse than 9/11 and another 1970s-style energy crisis. Many people also think robots will take their jobs.

Few folks in either party believe the political class is up to the task of addressing the most pressing challenges. Part of the problem is that there is less agreement about what the biggest problems even are than there once was, let alone the best ways to tackle them.

Why we should be honest about failure

By Janan Ganesh

20 March, 2019

On a long-haul flight, Can You Ever Forgive Me? becomes the first film I have ever watched twice in immediate succession.

Released last month in Britain, it recounts the (true) story of Lee Israel, a once-admired, now-marginal writer who resorts to literary forgery to make the rent on her fetid New York hovel.

Her one friend is himself a washout who, as per the English tradition, passes off his insolvency as bohemia. Lee pleads with her agent to answer her calls and, in the rawest scene, confesses her crime with a wistful pang for the success it brought her.

There are serviceable jokes (including the profane farewell between the two friends) but the film is ultimately about failure: social, financial, romantic, professional.

Friday, March 22, 2019

From construction to cakes: What a man’s job switch tells us about how S'pore looks at skills

“Look, I spent my whole life putting cement as smoothly as possible on tiles and then lining them up straight on a wall. Or plastering the wall as smoothly as possible. Right? No different from icing a cake," said the author's friend.


20 MARCH, 2019

A friend of mine recently lost his job in the construction sector. He was a highly-skilled and experienced tiler and plasterer. I asked him if he was going to look for another tiling or plastering job. He said: “No lah, I'm going to help my wife in her bakery.”

Amused, I asked him: “What are you going to do in the bakery?”

He said, in all seriousness: “Icing cakes.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why my first home purchase is a HDB flat I may just outlive


18 MARCH, 2019

I am 29 years old, know full well that a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat will be worth nothing when its 99-year lease expires, and even explored a Big Read surrounding the lease decay issue.

Monday, March 11, 2019

S'poreans should 'brace themselves' for more issues with M'sia: Bilahari Kausikan

08 March, 2019

SINGAPORE — Air pollution, stalled rail projects and constant antagonism by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad are just some of the issues Singaporeans must continue to bear with because of the instability of Pakatan Harapan, said retired Singapore diplomat Bilahari Kausikan.

In a Facebook post on Friday (March 8), Mr Kausikan shared a TODAY report stating that the Rapid Transit System (RTS) rail system connecting Singapore with Johor would be delayed as Putrajaya had failed to meet project deadlines.

“This is just another example of the consequences of a fundamentally incoherent and thus ineffective, government across the causeway,” he wrote in a caption accompanying the report.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Budget ‘hongbao’ squeezed out of Government’s coffers: Heng Swee Keat

By Janice Lim

08 March, 2019

SINGAPORE — While he is often jokingly referred to as the God of Fortune, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Friday (March 8) that the “hongbao” (red packets, or goodies) dished out in the Budget have to be squeezed from the Government’s coffers.

To those who have asked him why the hongbao in this year’s Budget was so small, Mr Heng has replied: “This God of Fortune is not fat. This God of Fortune is quite thin, so money no enough. Whatever ‘hongbao’ given were squeezed out.”

Features of Budget 2019 include the S$1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonusand the S$6.1 billion set aside for the Merdeka Generation Package.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Loss in Semenyih by-election ominous for PH’s rule in Malaysia


05 MARCH, 2019

The recently concluded Semenyih by-election won by the Barisan Nasional (BN) is indeed a game changer for Malaysian politics. The by-election is a confirmation that many Malay voters have abandoned ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), a trend that was discerned in the previous Cameron Highlands elections.

The key difference between Cameron Highlands and Semenyih is the demography of the Malay voters. Prior to the election, many political pundits predicted that PH will retain Semenyih due to the high percentage of Malays from middle and upper-middle class background, a traditional vote bank for PH.

However, the results indicated otherwise, though it is perhaps premature to suggest that the by-election is a referendum for the PH government.

What a Singapore Strait traffic jam says about the world economy

06 March, 2019

HONG KONG — Flying into Singapore’s Changi Airport, visitors often remark on the hundreds of vessels, from supertankers to freighters, anchored along the coastline. Why are there so many? What are they doing there?

A decade ago, the global recession created a maritime car park of apparent ghost ships in the Singapore Strait — vessels sat idle in the world’s busiest shipping lane as companies were going bust or did not have enough business to justify their use.

Now there’s a similar stockpiling of ships in the strait, but it’s more like a traffic jam. A growing global population that is getting materially richer means a burgeoning demand for goods.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

China defends belt and road strategy against debt trap claims

Reuters file photo - A map illustrating China's "One Belt, One Road" megaproject at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong.

05 March, 2019

BEIJING — China has sought to defend its ailing “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) from mounting international criticism ahead of an important summit in April to fine-tune the multibillion-dollar infrastructure investment programme.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Explainer: What does a giant dislodged iceberg mean for us in Singapore?


03 March, 2019

SINGAPORE — An iceberg roughly two-and-a-half times the size of Singapore could break away from a western Antarctic ice shelf in weeks, said the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) last month.

It is the result of a rift, known as a Halloween crack, intersecting with another fissure which was stable for the past 35 years but which recently started accelerating northwards.

The two rifts are set to meet in a few weeks, experts estimate, which will lead to the iceberg calving, or being dislodged.

There is “no one reason” that can explain the calving at Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf, said Professor Benjamin Horton of Nanyang Technological University’s Asian School of the Environment.

Ice is melting everywhere, although the western Antarctic is the most sensitive and the fastest melting region, he said.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Singapore’s giant reserves: a taxing question for its next prime minister, Heng Swee Keat

It’s budget season in the Lion City, which can only mean one thing: a debate over whether more of the revenue from Singapore’s giant reserves should be used to offset taxes
The prime minister in waiting – Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat – is to unveil the budget on Monday

  • Jing Yng Ng 
  • Bhavan Jaipragas 

  • 16 Feb, 2019
‘NIRC’ – it’s a uniquely Singaporean economic abbreviation that stands for net investment returns contribution.

It’s a mouthful, but in the coming weeks the term is likely to be on the lips of many of the Lion City’s lawmakers as they debate the national budget Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will unveil on Monday. The NIRC is the amount of Singapore government revenue that comes from interest earned on its outsize reserves.

The city state has elaborate rules on how much a sitting government can rely on past reserves. Among them are requirements that the administration is not mired in net debt, and that only up to 50 per cent of long-term expected returns can be used each year.

The NIRC is computed based on long-term expected returns from net assets invested by three entities as well as investment income.