Monday, March 17, 2008

Cycling in Singapore

The number of cyclists on roads and also on pavements is increasing, but there is virtually no infrastructure to support or accommodate cyclists, and also there are some outdated legal issues regarding cycling on road/pavement.

Singapore is a relatively quite a flat island that is very suitable for cycling, except for the hot weather. Most roads and pavements are very nicely built, and is suitable for cycling.

After implementing the interchange system, the public bus transportation becomes very time consuming/wasting.

The "poor" impression that most Singaporeans get when they know I cycle doesn't seem to exist in most foreigners I met. I believe the increase of cyclists is because of the increasing number of foreigners here who unleashed the above advantageous features here for cycling, and the inconvenient interchange system.

(1) It is illegal to cycle on pavements, but most cyclists, and also many motorists find it dangerous for cyclists to be on roads.
(2) It is much safer to cycle on pavements, but this is at the expense of higher risks to the pedestrians.
(3) There are many motorists who are angry with cyclists on roads because they don't know that it is perfectly legal.
(4) Regardless of the knowledge that pedestrians are the rightful users of pavements ... , most pedestrians are too giving way to cyclists, and most cyclists expect that to happen.

Traffic police has been quiet all the while. May be they lack of expertise on this.

LTA keeps repeating the point that there are lack of land to make lane for cyclists.

Pedestrians have been accusing rackless cyclists who always almost knock on to them on pavements, and strongly stressed that cyclists must not be on the pavements.

A 1-year study is being carried out in Tampines is completing in 2 months time to look at the feasibility of allowing cyclists on pavements, but some people like Today's Ravi Veloo are not happy with the study and the "intended" conclusion.

I have been using bicycle as my main mode of transport for over a decade, since 1996. I am lucky to live in Toa Payoh, which is at the centre and make it relatively feasible for me to cycle to virtually everywhere in Singapore, and even to Johor Bahru.

Although I find it very convenient, cheap, quite healthy, similar time as taking public transport, etc., I cannot deny the huge risk and danger to cycle on the road. Thus, I have never encouraged anyone to cycle on road, but only to share my experiences if someone is considering to do so. My main advice is: it is better that you have drove a car before because then you understand the drivers better, and also appreciate how dangerous it is for a cyclist to be on the road.

Then, why didn't I cycle on pavements. Frankly, being illegal wasn't the reason. Firstly and ironically, it was safety issue. Roads are designed for the wheel while pavements are for legs. A small hole, gap, protruding roots, steps on pavements make them dangerous even for cycling slowly. Secondly, as mentioned, the times taken to travel on pavements could be more than twice that on roads. Thirdly, and only when I had come to know of it, is because it is illegal. However, I question this as the related laws were set in 1955, while many things have changed.

(1) The pavements most people are talking now mainly refer to those in HDB estates, which were only built in the 60's and 70's. I suspect the pavements refered to by the laws are those we may still find in some places of Chinatown. Thus, the reason then might have disappeared decades ago.

(2) The requirements to have a head light, but optional for a tail light reflects that bicycles were among the faster moving objects on roads. However, my experience is that head light are quite redundant 99% of the time, while tail light is a must for me, and if without it, I'll cycle on pavement. Thus, the safeness of cycling on road then is gone long long time ago.

(3) There was probably one type of cyclists, and bicycle, those old style made-in-china bicycle of 28" wheels, but there are various types of cyclists, and bicycles now with price ranging from less than S$50 to more than S$5000. Thus, to have a simple set of yes/no rules to apply to different classes of cyclists and different types of pavements is impractical.

I suggest, briefly, ideas similar to the brilliant idea to allow left-turn on red at certain traffic junctions, have a set and range of rules catering to different types of pavements. Initially, there were some protests and signs put up accusing left-turn on red as a very dangerous rule for pedestrians. As people got use to it, now it seems to be a safe and working rule.

Coincidently, although vehicle can turn left on red, but pedestrians are still given the right to cross the road first. I feel this is the right way, and has to be made clear to all cyclists and pedestrians: when cyclists are cycling on pavements, pedestrians have the full right to use the pavement and absolutely no requirement to give way to the cyclists, and cyclists should never expect any pedestrians to give way, but to slow or stop and wait no matter how not-giving way the pedestrians want to be.

I always find the many sudden way-giving acts of pedestrians dangerous to them, and for cyclists to expect pedestrians to give way is dangerous to all.

Also, when trying to outreach to educate cyclists, need to target not only
(a) the hobbyists, who are on high end bicycles and are typically more matured and safety precautious,
but also other groups such as
(b) the regulars, subdivided into those intra-town cyclists, who cycle within their town from home to interchange/MRT stations/markets/etc,
(c) the regulars, inter-town cyclists, who like me, cycle up to an hour all the way from home to workplace/school/etc.
(d) the holiday-cyclists, who are mainly inexperienced teenagers and school kids, and I suspect these are the main "reckless cyclists," who like to speed, cycle on one wheel, jump up and down curbs, etc.
(e) cyclists of different nationalities, who need to be integrated into our society at all levels and aspects.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Getting the right answer

In doing mathematics homework, many students find in frustrating not able to get the answers provided.

Couldn't get the [given] answer!

Look for careless mistakes and redo the workings. Some keep trying and spend more time than necessary. Some give up easily declaring they are bad in it. Some quickly discover their mistakes and happily conclude that they are not so bad.

My views
I like to tell my tuition students don't over worry about getting the right answer ... Why so and what do I suggest? . The answer is actually very uninteresting. The teacher, markers, question setters already knew it, and majority of the students will know it shortly.

More importantly, in doing homework, the goal is not to get the right answer, but to practice and reinforce the knowledge/skills/techniques being taught. The given answer serves to provide a feedback on your efforts. Some possible feedbacks are:
a) answer is correct ==> what you've done is probably right, and thus providing evidence to reinforce the methods that you have used.
b) answer is incorrect ==> what you've done is not right, thus you should check and learn from whatever mistakes you have made, and thus providing evidence to weaken the methods that you have used.

My point is that the above is achieved by doing the problem using a clear method, check for any careless mistake, compare with the given answer, recheck for mistakes if answers are different, make the conclusion and learn the lesson.

That's it for the purpose of education. Unless the number of correct answers affect your official score, then spend slightly more time to get it right for the purpose of gaining marks, if you know your mistake. However, the additional time spent in doing so doesn't benefit much in educational terms.

The problems with the above "solutions" are:

1) Some keep trying and spend more time than necessary. This is a bad habit that will affect efficiency and productivity in the future real world working environment. A person might be over focusing on a particular insignificant issue but overlooked the main objective and goal of his work.

2) Some give up easily declaring they are bad in it. Making mistake, or not getting the correct method the first time doesn't mean one is bad in maths. It just mean one need to admit that he need to put in more efforts and attention in lessons and revising to improve, but not by getting the answer right without bothering the meaning behind the methods used.

3) Some quickly discover their mistakes and happily conclude that they are not so bad. This is dangerous. It is good that they locate their mistakes quickly, but that isn't the end. Locating mistakes is not evidence that they are good, but overlook that making mistakes is evidence that they are weak. They should try to diagnose the reasons for their mistakes, which usually could be caused by weak foundation in something more elementary. Leaving this untouched, such weak foundation in elementary or fundamental knowledge will continue to haunt them in maths, and even in life.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Singapore HDB sale exercise (III)

Coming soon...
Continuation from my earlier articles, "Singapore HDB sale exercise" and "Singapore HDB sale exercise (II)"

A queue of people with heterogeneous needs and desires make people angry. E.g. in the bank, they have a special counter for opening of account, which takes long time, because imagine how angry people behind who just need to do a 2 minutes simple transaction will be. Here, imagine some whose situation is special and find a typically much undesired unit very suitable for them, but now have to queue together with 10240 people while probably 99% of them will not consider the unity they wanted. Yet, unlike in the bank queue, some of these 99% might change their mind halfway and choose this initially unconsidered unit.

Actually, HDB has already split the locations into 3 sectors. Currently, those who do not desire a unit in the matured estate do not need to queue together with so many others. However, it seems even smaller sectors are necessary. ... What's my idea?

May be we should suggest to HDB to allow people to indicate more specifically what they wanted. People who are not aiming for Toa Payoh might lose out due to the many applicants who are attracted by the Toa Payoh units. But then again, you might not lose out since your desired unit might still be there as these applicants probably won't consider other locations.

However, in the current situation, it is very likely that someone who has been given an early queue number to choose to change their mind and choose a unit in a previously not being considered estate. This might not end here, when people change mind last minute, they are likely to regret it, and might end up giving up even though sacrificing 2K option fee, or soon they'll be selling and buying again. Both of these I doubt the HDB welcomes.

I am thinking of using a survey to gather information from applicants if they have specific choices in mind already, and where are these units. Since it is not a first come first serve system, HDB can put up the available unit in advance, allow people to make up their mind on what and where they are aiming for. Then, using the survey results, HDB can appropriately categorize people into different but shorter queues. E.g. if someone stated that he is only eyeing for Ang Mo Kio, he doesn't need to queue together with people who are not eyeing for Ang Mo Kio. Also, encourage people to limit their choice by a priority system. E.g. for estate A, those who only interested in this estate will be the first batch, those who have two interested estates will be the 2nd batch, and so on, while those who aim for any estate will be the last batch in all the queues for all these estates.

This reminds me of MOE. HDB should study the Joint Admission Exercise where students apply for their U/JC/Poly and see how they might incorporate this system in selling/distributing their limited available flats.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Singapore HDB sale exercise (II)

Continuation from my earlier article, "Singapore HDB sale exercise"

See the earlier article.

Reference to the sentence, "I am not sure if they have any priority system so that it is not a purely by chance system."

I guess the answer is given by the Minister in the report, "Government to proceed with HDB estate upgrading", where

Mr Mah said: "Balloting method is probably the fairest. Administratively the most efficient way to do it. And we have certain criteria. We have certain income ceiling. We have given allocation priority to the first timers. We have given further chances to those who are living near their parents."

On one hand, I am glad to hear that. On the other hand, I then wonder, is the demand really so huge? ... Why do I wonder? Among the criteria,
    income ceiling: I guess it is very clear in he application that all the 10000 over applicants satisfy it.
    first timers: I believe I am one although I bought an unit, but it was from resale and without taking grant.
    living near their parents: I am.

Yet, my number is 7018. I told others my chance is slim, which is theoretically correct, while my brother replied, "No chance at all!!!", which is statistically correct.

Thus, does this imply that there are at least 7017 others who qualify these criteria? If so, I guess they need to introduce more criteria.

I would not contest that the balloting is the fairest, but is fairest HDB's objective? I don't think so according to the existence of the above criteria.

I admit it is administratively very efficient, and tremendously profitable with virtually pure profit of 10000xS$10! However, being so efficient administratively, this huge revenue is questionable. This can easily be doubled a few times by conducting monthly or even fortnightly ballots, which is very feasible, and each time put up just a hundred units will do. Again, I think it is not HDB's objective to generate revenue.

So, what are HDB objectives? I actually did some readings at the HDB site, and my conclusion is HDB is a builder but not a seller. Their objectives are to make available, and probably also to make sufficiently available. They are not so much into distribution, marketing and selling. Thus, I would suggest they seriously setup a division for it, or outsource to some experts to do this, just as they have outsourced the designing for quite some years already.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Singapore HDB sale exercise

This is about the Bi-monthly sale of 4-room and above flats by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) of Singapore. The recent offer of 278 units attracted 10240 applications @ S$10 non-refundable fee each.

Who are these 10240 people who applied? How many of them are serious and ready in buying? How many of them are trying their luck? Just for S$10 and a few minutes to apply online, they get a chance to buy a subsidized unit from HDB. The chance of 278/10240 = 0.02715 is a good chance to them for a S$10 bet, and a very high potential of gaining 50 to 100K in 5 years time.

However, this is a very, very, very slim chance for serious and ready buyers. ... How is it so? For example, if 80% ~ 8000 are trying their luck, using 10000 in place of 10240 for easy calculation, the expected number of applications from these 8000 getting a queue number in the first 2000 is 8000/10000*2000 = 1600. More specifically, on the average, every 4 out of 5 is a trying luck application. Thus, only 278*1/5 ~56 are serious and ready buyers out of the assumed 20% ~ 2000 of them, i.e. for serious buyer, the actual chance is 56/10240 ~ 0.00547 << 0.02715. Also, by assuming a low successful selection rate of 50%, the first 556 in the queue would have selected all the 278 units.

This system leads to these results. Does HDB want this? I am not sure if they have any priority system so that it is not a purely by chance system. (See my follow-up article on this.)

They are reviewing the system now. Hopefully they can start off with a clear goal and objective in mind for changes and new implementations, rather than a problem solving mind set.

I only have vague idea about the earlier systems where it is purely first come first serve basis, and when there are many luck-trying people before serious buyers, the latter has to wait many years for their turn. Probably it was with a problem solving approach, that they dissolves the queue periodically so everyone can have some chance to be a first comer for each sale offer. Yet, long queues started forming up before official announcement of sale killed that system. Then, this present system is implemented where everyone who applies in the first week will be randomly given a queue number, and those who apply thereafter will just continue to queue behind. I guess the assumption is that the number of applications is about the number of units being offered. Sadly this isn't the case this time.

I feel that a week time is way too long a period for online application. My speculations is that most, probably 90% of serious and ready buyers would have applied on the first day. As the news spread out to more people, there will be many luck-trying people submitting their applications. Furthermore, there was this news article reporting that almost 9900 applications on Friday. It is supposed to serve as a deterrent telling people that the chance is low. Yes, indeed, many serious and ready buyers might feel so. However, for the luck-trying people, they might have read it as "Yes, the chance seems low, but this low chance or high volume suggested this is a good bet!" Hence, over the weekend and Monday, there are still another additional 250 applications.

Although something similar to the COE system might help to filter away those luck-trying people, it still has its cons and it is unfair to serious buyers. More importantly, this would be a problem solving way unless the expected resulting scenario is what HDB wants.

Thus, the crucial question is, what exactly does HDB want? What are its objectives and goals? Hopefully whatever new policies and sale systems, will not be for the purpose of solving current situation, but will be designed to achieve their objectives and goals.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

1st hand smoke

When a cigarette is lighted, smoke started to diffuse into the air. This is 1st hand smoke.

When a lighted cigarette is not being "consumed" by the smoker, it is polluting the surroundings with 1st hand smoke. ...

None yet.

My views
Strictly speaking, smokers mainly inhale filtered 1st hand smoke, and then exhale 2nd hand smoke.

1st hand smoke is probably much more toxic and concentrated than 2nd hand smoke that has gone through the filtering of the cigarette bud, the smoker's lungs, and some of them also the smoker's nostrils. Thus, 2nd hand smoke seems a lesser problem than 1st hand smoke.

Can someone design a filter to cap on to the burning end of a cigarette?

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Monday, February 18, 2008

2nd hand smoke

In Singapore, and probably also in many other countries, more and more places are out of bound for smokers to smoke.

When smokers can't smoke at static locations, they smoke while walking. Previously, non-smoker like me who hate 2nd hand smoke can choose not to be near places with smokers. Now, how should I react when walking behind a smoker on a path? ...

None yet.

My views
A rationale for implementing non-smoking restrictions on many places is because these are public places, such as eating places, bus stops, etc. Another criteria is when the space is small and enclosed where one cannot easily "escape" out, such as in a lift.

A pedestrian path is a public place, but it is not enclosed, and it is in the outdoor where the 2nd hand smoke concentration would be low. Thus, smoking is not banned here by the above reasoning.

However, when I am walking behind someone smoking at similar speed along a relatively narrow path, I feel like I'm trapped in a space with 2nd hand smoke for some non-negligible period. This is similar to being in a lift with someone smoking. However, unlike in a lift, where I can just hold my breath for a couple of seconds till the door open, it is not easy to do that along a walking path. First, it is more difficult to hold my breath when walking. Second, it usually last longer than a couple of seconds.

Thus, the choices are:
(1) Over take the person in front. However, what if the smoker is walking quite fast, or the path is quite narrow, or what if there are a bunch of them in front?
(2) Halt or slow down till a good distance away from the smoker. However, this means I suffer a lost of time. Also, what if there are also another smoker behind me? Furthermore, this is similar to stopping the lift half way to go out while the smoker go ahead first.

Thus, although the space on a path is not small and enclosed, it has almost the same effect if you happens to walk behind or around people smoking while walking.

Should we call for disallowing people to smoke while walking on public paths, especially those that are narrow or with overhead cover.

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Unemployment rate

Every country in the world is working towards zero unemployment rate, or 100% employment rate.

High unemployment rate is a problem.

Ensure everyone are employed.

My views
Is unemployement a problem? ... I don't think so.

Should we achieve zero unemployment rate by discouraging
a) technology advances, which reduce the number of jobs? This is about number of jobs versus productivity.
b) stay at home moms, if these are technically considered as unemployed? The subtle but significant economic values of "stay at home moms" seem to be totally out of all equations in economic growths.
c) outsourcing, which reduce the job opportunities of locals? This is a battle between local people immediate welfare versus the potential growth and long term welfare for the locals.

Should we increase employment rate by
a) creating/keeping unnecessary jobs so that there are more jobs in the market? E.g. employing people to collect tolls along an expressway versus implementing ERP-like systems to automate collections.
b) breaking up a task into many sub-tasks so that many people can be employed for each little sub-task? E.g. Once I was at a neighbor country's government office, there were 4 staff. Two deal with divorce cases, while two deal with registration of marriage registered in a foreign country. Of the former two, one will briefly check that the required documents are ready, while the 2nd one proceed on with the registration.

I believe good economists are aware of all these. Just as good doctors know that fever is not an illness, while majority of the people only focus on lowering down the temperatures by all sort of ways from taking Panadol to putting ice on forehead.

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cost of transportation is rising

In my small island nation Singapore, the transport cost is rising year after year.
Certificate of Entitlement (COE) to own a vehicle tries to limit the number of vehicle in the country. COE targets correctly on one of the cause, the number of vehicles on road. However, for this to work require slowing down the success of a goal of the government, which is the growth in wealth of the people ... but how could growth in wealth be slowed down? .

Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) of using certain common roads initially to limit the number of vehicles in congested areas such as the central business district (CBD), but now it is to limit the amount of traffic on these roads. Theses roads were mainly some major expressways, but now it also include roads in residential town, such as Lorong 6 Toa Payoh.

Public transportation fares have been a strictly increasing curve, always ignoring any drop in petrol prices or any other running costs.

Taxi fares continues to increase even after the increase of taxis operators and number of taxis on the road.

The number of vehicles in the country is still increasing at maximum rate set by the authority. CBD is still congested. Major expressways have daily traffic jams. Having ERP on Lorong 6 Toa Payoh will not reduce but just spread the traffic volume into Marymount road, Thomson road and Upper Serangoon roads. MRT is getting more cramp day after day. Taxis still run around yet hard to fetch at some location during some periods.

None yet.

My views
First of all, is it a problem? Yes, the cost is rising, but how high is it when compared to other cities. We shouldn't compare to the old Singapore. I am not talking the time when policemen ware khaki shorts, but even just 5 to 10 years ago. We should compare to other cities at the similar developed level as here.

Secondly, how should this problem be solved? The overall way is to improve the traffic situation, so that it is cheaper to own a car, if one choose to, and it is worth it to take public transport, which is encouraged by the authorities. Has anyone look into the need for travel?

I suggest moving from the mentality of Gun (鲧) to that of Yu (禹), as in the story of Yu the Great Conquered the Flood (大禹治水). The former tried blocking while the latter used channeling. ERP is not the ultimate solution. It can temporarily reduce, or redistribute the traffic volume. However, eventually the traffic jam will return. Nevertheless, ERP is a good way to get revenue for the government, just as damps help to gather energy from the ever flowing water.

The recent announcement of 2 new Thomson and Eastern Region lines is a channeling way. Probably the ERP is needed to gather enough revenue (or problems) to support building these new MRT lines :) Further searches led me to this image, but I not sure how true it is. Anyway, that's a good direction to head towards.

Other than the dimension of space, there is the dimension of time. The concept of peak hours need to be re-considered. How can the unused traffic capacity during non-peak hours be better utilized to help shoulder the burden during peak hours? I believe many office hour jobs can be rescheduled slightly to avoid the peak hours.

Next, also considering the need to travel. This, I think is a more causal factor than the number of vehicles. The rise in transport cost might actually reduce the want to travel. However, that's bad as it make people feel poorer and less happy, just like what the COE have been doing. Imagine how demoralizing it is to reduce the number of family outing trips due to cost. How about the need to travel? On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice to reduce the number of days that need to travel to work? Or at least, travel at a non-peak time.

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