| April 2004 |

Apartment Hunting

I didn’t know looking for an apartment can be so stressful. First you have to find housemates whom you’re comfortable with, and that’s the easy part. Then you have to try and accommodate everyone’s budget and preferences before you can start to short-list suitable apartments.

Of course, it’s never going to be easy when everyone wants to live in a luxurious condo on a shoestring budget with his own private room; not to mention we have seven guys — Dylan, Frankie, Howe, Nick, Sing, Steve and me — who want to live in the same building, and preferably on the same floor. We could only hope that there’ll be two such apartments available on the market at the same time.

To complicate matters further, some of the guys don’t really get along too well, and we had trouble deciding the arrangement of housemates even before we found a place. Like what I learnt in my operations management course, fewer solutions will be available to a problem when there are more constraints. Indeed.

But the fun was just getting started. We finally found two suitable apartments after much searching, only to realise one of the apartments — and it had to be the one I was going to live in — had already been sold before we could make an offer. To make things worse, that was the only apartment in the area that could fit four people comfortably on our tiny budget.

Living in a house would be our best alternative and Dylan suggested that we should at least check some out to keep our options open, but Steve insisted that we live in a condo. Tension was rising fast and I could see that we were heading nowhere: the possibility of us ending up on the streets after we get kick out of residence in three weeks’ time was getting higher; and it was only a matter of time before Dylan and Steve bring their fight into the open, making it even more unlikely that we could live together in harmony under one roof. Since Nick was back at his home in Michigan, I had to be the peacemaker and try to sort things out.

I convinced Dylan that it was better for all of us if he was to move out with his three other friends — who were also looking for an apartment — than to drag this on, especially with exams just around the corner. With only three people onboard now, we hoped to have an easier time searching for a place.

Once again, suitable apartments were rented out even before we had a chance to take a look at them; while others were either too crappy or expensive. I was already mentally preparing myself for a life as a hobo next year when we received news that an apartment was available for lease. Not just any apartment, but one which is nice and actually fits our budget; what’s more, it’s on the floor as Frankie’s. Sure, it’s a little noisy due to the construction works beside it and we get the hot afternoon sun, but the important thing is that everyone is together — meaning we get to play with Howe’s PS2 everyday. I mean, what other reasons are there to make six guys with contrasting personalities and bad living habits want to live together?

Video games don’t promote violence; they bond aggressive, testosterone-charged young men together and bring world peace.

23 April 2004 · My Life · Comments (2)

Open Our Hearts

I read the recent reports about NKF having $189 million in reserves with great interest. The amount of money is mind-boggling and unexpected; who would have guessed NKF has such a fat piggy bank when celebrities performing in the NKF Charity Show made their earnest pleas for donations sounded as if NKF is on the verge of bankruptcy.

The save-for-rainy-days mentality is distinctly Singaporean, so one shouldn’t judge NKF too harshly. After all, Singapore has about $170 billion in foreign reserves — nearly 6 times our budget for this fiscal year. But like the chairman of NVPC Mr Willie Cheng said, it’s a lot of money.

Charity watchdog groups suggest a charity should devote at least 60% of its annual expenditure to good works, leaving the rest for fundraising and administration. NKF explained that $0.56 out of every dollar went to its beneficiaries and administration of its programmes. At first glance, this seems like a reasonable proportion considering the fact that NKF is such a large organisation — and we all know bureaucratic red tapes and inefficiencies increase with organisational size — so falling slightly below the 60% mark is acceptable.

However, notice that NKF have grouped expenses for both charitable works and administration together; all is not what it appears to be. I decided to check out some financial information from its website, hoping to get a clearer picture.

Once again, NKF has included salary cost and other running expenses in its direct charitable expenses. And interestingly, its $26-million employee costs are disclosed right at the bottom of the page; apparently it’s considered to be other information, rather than expenses. But I digress.

Assuming that NKF spent all the direct charitable expenses on its beneficiaries — not an unreasonable assumption since dialysis treatments require professional healthcare workers and expensive equipments — $0.37 out of every dollar went to the patients. If the same proportion of funds is spent on charitable works from its reserves, patients will receive $0.10 more out of every dollar. This means 47% of all funds NKF collected will eventually benefit its beneficiaries.

In addition, NKF’s investment income and gains contributed $3 million to its bottom line. This sounds like quite a large sum of money. But if you consider its $189 million piggy bank, the return on its investments is only a paltry 1.6% — a far cry from the 6% return SM Lee requires SIA to achieve.

However, no comparable data is available on other charities, making it difficult to gauge the performance and efficiency of NKF objectively. I strongly support NVPC’s plan to set up an online portal that lists Singapore’s non-profit groups, what they spend and what funds they raise. This will not only foster an environment where non-profit organisations are more transparent and accountable to their donors, but also pressure these organisations to become more efficient in order to attract donors, who will be well-informed on how their contributions are spent.

While many national charities in Canada managed to stay well above the 60% level — such as Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (72%) and the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (80%) — conditions faced by local charities in Singapore must be taken into consideration.

According to a CBC report, Canadians donated an average of $327 per person in 2000; in comparison, Singaporeans gave nearly $382 million to charity in 2002 — an average of $86 per person. Arguing that Canada is a more affluent country is a lame excuse, since Singapore’s GDP per capita is only $8,400 less than that of Canada. Putting the numbers in perspective, Singaporeans will have to donate $281 per person annually in order to match Canadians’ generosity towards charitable causes. No wonder local charities like NKF have to spend so much money on fundraising events to encourage Singaporeans to donate.

Gambling is undoubtedly Singaporeans’ favourite pastime, and we gambled away $6.2 billion in 2002. When the lion’s share of donations went to charities that ran lotteries — giving donors a chance at winning expensive prizes — one wonders if we Singaporeans are motivated to donate because we truly want to help the less fortunate, or we just wanted to get a shot at winning a $500,000 condominium in District 10.

Now if only we open our hearts — and our wallets — and donate 5% of what we spent on gambling to charity, the needy will receive an additional $310 million every year.

To us, it is just a contribution; to the less fortunate, it means everything.

11 April 2004 · Money · Comments (5)

Creative Commons License

It seems hypocritical that I show my support for open source development on the internet and then stamp an all rights reserved warning on SG Watch. Although I had the same warning on my old website, I’ve used the copyright © symbol for completely different reasons.

When I first created Fanaticism, I just felt that it looked cool to have the copyright © symbol displayed on the website without giving much thought to the legal implications. But as time goes by and I started to learn more about copyright laws — especially after all those RIAA lawsuits against illegal music swappers — I began to understand the significance of displaying the copyright © symbol on my website.

(Note that when you create a work, it’s automatically protected by full copyright — whether you file for protection or not; whether you display the copyright © symbol or not.)

Like most people, I’m more than happy to share my photos and works with others if they were to give me credit; but under the copyright laws, it’s considered a copyright infringement to publish my works — that include those cute pictures of Dinga — on your own website without obtaining my explicit permission to do so. Since I have no intention of suing anyone for reproducing my works in good faith — I can’t afford the exorbitant legal fees anyway — and I know it can be quite a hassle to ask for permission every time, I could’ve easily put up a no rights reserved announcement on SG Watch.

However, I don’t want unscrupulous businessmen making money off my good intentions or have altered pictures of me circulating the internet as a joke; hence the copyright © symbol. If you’re facing the same dilemma as I do, Creative Commons can help.

Creative Commons has released a set of copyright licenses free for public use that helps people dedicate their creative works to the public domain — or retain their copyright while licensing them as free for certain uses, on certain conditions. The conditions include:

  • Attribution
    You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give you credit.

  • Non-commercial
    You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for non-commercial purposes only.

  • No Derivative Works
    You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.

  • Share Alike
    You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.

The conditions can be mixed and matched to suit your needs. You can also learn more about Creative Commons by watching its introductory movie Get Creative, a 5-minute long Flash presentation that covers why Creative Commons was formed, what it does, and how it does it.

The copyright © symbol is staying while I decide which CC license is more suitable for me. For now, if you want to use my works but are unsure whether I’ll track you down with a machete in hand, please contact me.

01 April 2004 · Web · Comments (2)

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