Monday, 5 October 2015

HDB to build 4 new generation neighbourhood centres

To be sited in Punggol, Hougang and Sembawang, they will house amenities, and some will boast elevated linkways
By Janice Heng, The Sunday Times, 4 Oct 2015

In neighbourhoods of the near future, residents can head home from the LRT station using a sheltered bridge, which then transitions into a shop-lined corridor on the upper floor of an airy building.

There, they might stop for dinner at a foodcourt, shop for groceries or pick up their children from a childcare centre. The residents can then take an elevated walkway that is linked to their Housing Board block - all without going down to street level.

Such convenience will come with the introduction of next-generation HDB neighbourhood centres that house amenities and provide a gathering place for residents too.

For a start, two will be built in Punggol, and one each in Hougang and Sembawang. They are expected to be ready from 2018 to 2020.

Neighbourhood centres differ from the larger and more extensive town hubs such as those being built in Tampines and Bedok. The latter serve tens of thousands of residents across an entire town, and are located in town centres. Each neighbourhood centre will serve about 5,000 to 6,000 residents.

The four new neighbourhood centres are the first ones that the HDB is building in more than a decade. The last ones it built were Pioneer Mall and Punggol Plaza, launched in 2000 and completed in 2004.

Since 2000, private developers have been allowed to bid for land set aside for neighbourhood centres and build them."We have taken back the role of building these centres because we think that meeting the residents' needs and creating spaces for residents is very important," said Mr Fong Chun Wah, HDB group director for development and procurement.

When the HDB designs and builds neighbourhood centres, it can better integrate them with public housing projects, he added.

Obama on Oregon shooting: 'Somehow this has become routine'

'This has become routine... We've become numb'
The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama said the United States had grown numb to mass shootings and faulted lawmakers for failing to take action, hours after a gunman opened fire at a community college in Oregon.

Appearing in the White House briefing room on Thursday with a grim expression and a frustrated tone, Mr Obama challenged US voters of all political stripes to hold their leaders accountable if they wanted to prevent such tragedies from happening again.

"We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction," Mr Obama told reporters.

101: The School Shootings Since Sandy Hook
Since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, there have been 142 school shootings. Like the latest Oregon shooting, 62 of those shootings happened at colleges. Read full story:
Posted by NBC News on Friday, October 2, 2015

There have been more than a dozen mass shootings in the US since Mr Obama took office. He and Vice-President Joe Biden made a push for gun control reforms after the 2012 shooting of children in a Newtown, Connecticut school that shocked the country, but were unsuccessful.

Mr Obama has blamed the influential National Rifle Association lobby group for that failure, which he has called one of the biggest frustrations of his time in office.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike offered thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Oregon massacre and their family members on Thursday, but a visibly upset Mr Obama said that was not enough.

Obama addresses Oregon community college mass shooting
Watch what a visibly frustrated, angered and saddened President Obama had to say about the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in southwest Oregon.
Posted by NBC News on Thursday, October 1, 2015

"Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine," he said. "We've become numb to this."

He asked news organisations to tally the number of Americans killed by terror attacks over the past 10 years and compare it with the number killed by domestic gun violence.

Using data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, CNN found that from 2004 to 2013, 316,545 people died by firearms on US soil. Over the same period, the number of US citizens killed in terror attacks overseas as well as people killed in terror incidents in the US totalled 313.

The US Constitution guarantees Americans the right to bear arms. But Mr Obama said it did not make sense to argue that the Constitution prevented sensible reforms.

Modified e-bikes raise safety concerns

Many people want stricter rules for their use; some say training, education for riders could help
By Danson Cheong, The Sunday Times, 4 Oct 2015

With helmets on, standing astride their rides at a stop light, Amy and Ahmad look like any other motorcyclists. But a closer look reveals that the married couple are not on motorcycles, but souped-up electric bikes.

The duo, who work as cleaning supervisors, have spent close to $10,000 illegally modifying the bikes to allow them to travel up to 70kmh - far beyond the 25kmh allowed by law.

But as more turn to modified electric bicycles, or e-bikes, for a cheaper alternative to motorcycles, their presence on the roads has heightened worries about safety.

Yesterday, an 81-year-old man died on the scene after the e-bike he was riding was involved in an accident with a trailer along Lower Delta Road at around 10.15am. The 62-year-old driver was arrested, said police.

More than 11,600 e-bicycles have been approved by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). This means they have undergone tests to make sure they meet requirements such as speed limits, and are affixed with an LTA seal.

Amy and Ahmad said their bikes also have the seal and were checked by the LTA before they were bought and then illegally modified.

Their bikes now have larger batteries, more powerful motors and throttles. They told The Sunday Times that they knew they were flouting the rules, but the prices of motorcycles and certificates of entitlement (COEs) were beyond their reach. "We're using them to go to work, and make deliveries, not for racing," said Amy, 28, pointing out that while their bikes were fast, they were still slower than motorbikes. "For people like us, who don't earn a lot, these are our 'cars'."

Ahmad, 44, added: "We don't need to pay for petrol, ERP, COE or road tax. We spend only about $50 to $60 a month on electricity to charge both the bikes."

Even with stiff fines and the risk of confiscation, the number of errant riders fined for illegal modifications has held steady, according to LTA figures. In the first five months of this year, 459 summons were issued. Last year, the number was 1,042. In 2013 and 2012, it was 978 and 1,250 respectively.

Ship chandler Bobby Seah, 60, said: "I told my friends, if they see LTA officers or the police, start pedalling and stop using the throttle."

Haze in Singapore: A problem dating back 40 years

Singapore's haze problem dates back to the 1970s, records show
By Samantha Boh and Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

Singapore has been plagued by haze since the 1970s, and it is unrealistic to think that the problem can be solved in three years, as Indonesian President Joko Widodo has predicted, experts told The Straits Times.

While some of the measures he put in place may help alleviate the situation, broad changes must happen both on the ground and at the government level there to have a real impact.

Said Professor Euston Quah, head of Nanyang Technological University's Department of Economics: "It will certainly take more than three years to greatly reduce the fire episodes."

Among other things, laws need to be changed and greater coordination is required among various government institutions, he said.

And National University of Singapore law professor Alan Tan noted that the problem was not just about companies setting fires, but hinged on the unfair parcelling of land.

"There is a deeper problem of land use inequity affecting local communities whose lands are taken by the companies, often with the collusion of corrupt officials. This results in villagers encroaching into plantation lands, and both sides use fires indiscriminately for their own ends," he said. "This aspect of the problem cannot realistically be solved in a matter of a few years. It must involve fundamental reform of land use policies."

Prof Tan stressed that there is no way to ban fires altogether, as it remains the fastest and cheapest way to clear land in an agrarian economy like Indonesia.

"The goal should be to ensure controlled burning, and this must take into account complexities like weather patterns, peat lands, land use disputes, local government autonomy and corrupt local officials."

Records show that the haze has plagued Singapore as far back as 43 years ago.

On Oct 18, 1972, a Straits Times article headlined "Persistent haze" warned Singaporeans to prepare for several more weeks of haze discomfort caused by extensive fires in Sumatra and Indonesia Borneo. Shocked citizens had then said they were suffocating in their flats.

An earlier article that month had reported that a "heavy dust haze enveloped large area of Singapore", affecting thousands of commuters.

That was to be the first of many similar experiences.

The haze has shrouded the island time and again, and now, Singapore is bracing itself for what could be its worst prolonged spell of haze to date.

Scientists have warned that this year's episode could be as bad as or even worse than 1997's conditions - widely regarded as the most serious haze event on record. That year, the haze lasted three months and cost Singapore an estimated US$163 million (S$232 million).

This year, it has so far stretched for 11/2 months, with no respite in sight.

Marine Parade to honour 21 centenarians

By Priscilla Goy, The Sunday Times, 4 Oct 2015

To recognise "senior pioneers", 21 centenarians in the Marine Parade ward will be honoured with a hongbao of at least $100 and a hamper. There are also plans for the ward to do something similar for about 300 people aged 90 to 99.

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is also adviser to Marine Parade grassroots organisations, revealed this yesterday. At the launch of the month-long celebrations to mark the International Day of Older Persons, Mr Goh said: "This year is SG50, so I'd like to end the year by celebrating 'older and older' people in the neighbourhood."

It was amazing to see her walking up to the stage and standing so erect to have her photo taken. She is 101 years old,...
Posted by MParader on Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mr Goh said the Pioneer Generation Office helped to identify Marine Parade residents aged 90 and above.

"This gives us the chance to check if these people are still around and, if they are, we must honour them for their past services and try to find out their secrets for living so long."

The project was started about two weeks ago, and a few centenarians have received their gifts.

Inspiring tale of ex-radio presenter

Book recounts her journey from denial to positivity after end-stage kidney failure
By Priscilla Goy, The Sunday Times, 5 Oct 2015

Madam Jamilah Yusop, 61, used to go to the gym thrice a week.

She now goes for dialysis thrice a week, after being diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure last year, which means she needs dialysis for the rest of her life.

Her journey from denial to despair and now, positivity, is documented in her book titled Berat Mata Memandang (No Matter How Heavy It Looks, in Malay).

The former Warna 94.2FM radio presenter said she was shocked when she first heard in 2012 that she had "kidney problems".

Denial and inaction worsened her condition. She saw a sinseh instead of her nephrologist but, after six months, she woke up one day breathless and with her face puffy.

"The thought sank into me then that I should have seen the nephrologist earlier," she said. She started going for dialysis in 2013.

Despite her illness, she tries to lead a normal life, playing with her three-year-old granddaughter, reading the news, and meeting friends and other kidney patients.

Her 67-page book, which she self-published in August, was initially meant for her family to remember her, but she later decided to print 1,000 copies to encourage others."Hopefully, if other kidney patients are in the same boat as me, when they read this, they will understand and say 'If Jamilah can do it, why can't I do it?'" she said.

Yesterday, the Muslim Kidney Action Association (MKAC) presented her with the MKAC Courage Award at its 25th anniversary high tea at Furama City Centre hotel. It plans to give the book to its new kidney patients for free.

Madam Halimah Yacob, who will be re-nominated as Speaker of Parliament, yesterday lauded MKAC for its work in supporting kidney patients and their families.

National disease registry statistics show that although Malays account for 13.3 per cent of the population, they made up 24.5 per cent of people on dialysis last year.

Robots to lead fitness lessons for the elderly

Robocoach and elderly-friendly devices part of bid to tap IT's potential in the care of seniors
By Zhaki Abdullah, The Sunday Times, 4 Oct 2015

A very special fitness coach will soon make its debut at several seniors' activity centres islandwide.

Called Robocoach, it is a robot that uses motion-sensor technology to ensure its elderly students do their exercise routines correctly.

Originally developed by students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Robocoach is already available at the Lions Befrienders seniors' activity centre in Mei Ling Street. The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) hopes to roll it out to five seniors' activity centres by the end of the year. Twenty other centres will get an elderly-friendly tablet or NeuroAtHome, a device that uses motion-sensor-activated exercises to provide physical and cognitive therapy to seniors who have suffered strokes or have disorders such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.

These innovations were among 24 exhibits shown yesterday at Nanyang Polytechnic at the launch of the Silver IT Fest, a nine-day IDA event. Started in 2007, it aims to familiarise seniors and their families with IT through workshops and exhibitions. The Fest is part of the Digital Inclusion programme, which aims to give seniors, the needy and the disabled greater access to technology.

Also announced yesterday was Smart Eldercare, a collaboration between IDA, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, NTUC Health, and St Luke's Eldercare.

Smart Eldercare aims to explore how technology can help come up with solutions to common challenges in the caring of seniors. Technical trials for these solutions will be run at eldercare facilities by NTUC Health and St Luke's Eldercare.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said: "As chronic diseases become more prevalent with a greying population, IT has immense potential to make healthcare more accurate and reliable and, at the same time, more convenient and comfortable for our seniors."

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Poly grads start to Earn and Learn under new SkillsFuture scheme

By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

The first batch of polytechnic graduates taking part in a programme that allows them to work in logistics while furthering their studies started classes at Republic Polytechnic (RP) yesterday.

The 12-month programme, which is part of the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn scheme launched in March, leads to a specialist diploma in supply chain management. It enrolled 39 out of 59 applicants.

Applicants need to be hired by firms as full-time staff before they can be enrolled, said assistant director Soh Lai Seng, who is in charge of the academic programme at RP.

"We make sure they have a relevant diploma, then we let companies decide who they want to hire," he said.

Under the Earn and Learn scheme, students work from Mondays to Thursdays and attend classes on Fridays. Their monthly salary of $1,800 to $2,000 matches that of a polytechnic graduate who is starting work. Participants also get a $5,000 bonus.

To ensure that the lessons are fortified by industry relevance, companies are required to provide on-the-job training. Students will be supervised closely at work and by their lecturers so that they will be able to integrate theory and practice to develop deep specialist skills.

They will also take on a project related to their company operations so that they get to apply what they learn to solve real-life problems.

Mr Ong Swee Keong, general manager of Yang Kee Logistics, which has six employees under the scheme, said: "We want to give them solid training."

Ms Angelinena Song, general manager of Yusen Logistics' human resource department, hopes the scheme can be a "good pipeline for talent", so as to ease the manpower crunch. Yusen has taken on four workers under the scheme.

Government to review private car-sharing apps such as uberX: Khaw Boon Wan

By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

The Government will be reviewing private car hire services such as uberX to study if they have been competing unfairly with taxis.

Announcing this on his blog yesterday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that during the general election, he received feedback from "quite a number" of taxi drivers who said uberX is unfair.

Mr Khaw said he has asked Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng to conduct the study, consult taxi drivers and the public, and find a fair solution.

"While taxi drivers welcome competition, they demand that the playing field be level. I think our taxi drivers have a point," Mr Khaw wrote. "The Ministry of Transport will study this, and where justified, we shall level the playing field."

uberX, a saloon car chauffeur service that can be booked via the Uber app, has drawn controversy in Singapore and elsewhere as its drivers do not have to possess vocational licences, unlike taxi drivers.

uberX fares are priced similarly to taxis. Uber also offers taxi bookings under UberTaxi.

In June, the Land Transport Authority said it was mulling over vocational licensing for private chauffeur drivers, including those from uberX and GrabTaxi's GrabCar.

Adults with autism to get first-of-its-kind residential facility in 2018

A home for people with intellectual disabilities
First such facility for adults will ease worries of ageing caregivers, says President Tan
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

A new residential home in Sengkang for people with intellectual disabilities will help ease the worries of their ageing parents when it is ready in 2018.

There will be room for 200 residents, around seven in 10 of whom will be people with autism, as well as a day activity centre for 50 adults. Plans for the Adult Disability Home, the first facility of its kind here, were announced by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at a charity dinner last night. ''A common concern among families of persons with autism is the availability of care when the caregivers age or are no longer able to provide care,'' said Dr Tan, the guest of honour, in his speech at the event in Regent Hotel.

The new home will be co-developed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and non-profit organisation St Andrew's Autism Centre (SAAC).

It will be operated by SAAC, whose existing day activity centre in Elliot Road sees a rise in clients of around 10 to 15 per cent each year, said chief executive Dennis Ang.

''The new facility is intended to cover a service gap that will grow in time,'' he said, adding that existing services for people with autism are early intervention, special education, day activity centres, workshops and employment assistance.

Currently, 65 people, aged from 19 to their early 40s, use the Elliot Road centre. Some will most likely be residents in the future.

''There are parents we have met who say to us they do foresee a day when their son or daughter will need a home,'' said Mr Ang.

Finding dignity in mental illness

Mental Health Day next week reminds us of the need to look beyond the patient, to the person beneath
By Chong Siow Ann, Published The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

Next Saturday, Oct 10, is World Mental Health Day. As in previous years, there is a particular theme this year - Dignity In Mental Health.

Dignity is one of those words that most people think they know but would struggle to explain. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "the quality of being worthy or honourable" but to grasp what this would mean to someone living with a mental illness, I enlisted the help of one of my patients - a thoughtful lady with a serious mental illness and a wonderfully literary, curious and capacious mind. I asked if she could pen her reflection of what dignity means to her.

After a short interval, she e-mailed me. "Dignity for a patient with mental illness means having equal opportunities to work, or study and to make contributions to society and be shown the means to live a purposeful and meaningful life," she wrote and sadly went on.

"People with mental health issues are being treated with suspicion as to their cognitive and working capabilities. There is no way for this tinted mentality to be lifted in the near future as prejudices and misconceptions run deep. It is akin to certain crimes where the person may be guilty till proven innocent."

Despite the pervasiveness of mental illness in the population - most estimates have it that one in four adults experiences mental illness in any given year - there remains this persistent prejudice that smothers with a pall of silence.

The British author Clare Allan wrote: "There seems to be some sort of agreement, a contract you sign when you first break down, that should you ever emerge from your madness and re-enter the 'normal' world, you promise never to mention what took place. If you break this agreement, at best you'll find people's eyes start to drift away… embarrassment hangs in the air; at worst, you'll be shunned. At the very worst, you will discover you've become an object for general pathology."

The trajectory of a mental illness is often an arc of accretion of losses: a plummeting of self-worth, the dissolution of friendships, and the evaporation of career advancement and employment opportunities. The latter is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for people who had recovered from their mental illness, from picking themselves up and getting on with their life.

To many employers - as with many other people - mental illness is all too often associated with personal weakness, unpredictability, unreliability, unproductivity and violence - even after a person has recovered from an acute episode of such illness. Many make it a point to ask specifically for a history of mental illness and though they may not openly admit it, it is probable that they will eliminate any hopeful applicant who is honest enough to admit to one.

Frightened and desperate, some may lie but those gaps in their resume when they were too seriously ill to work and the subsequent difficulty in getting jobs can be hard to explain away.

New artistic space for children at National Gallery Singapore

Kids will get to create art and curate exhibition items at facility
By Deepika Shetty, Arts Correspondent, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

Young ones can dip their toes into the world of artists and curators by not only creating art pieces, but also selecting artworks for an exhibition and writing wall text at a spacious new facility here.

Members of the media and 60 delighted primary school pupils got a sneak peek yesterday at the Keppel Centre for Art Education. This education facility at the National Gallery Singapore is due to open with the rest of the gallery on Nov 24.

Free up your weekends from 24 November when we open the newest family-friendly destination! Today, more than 60...
Posted by National Gallery Singapore on Friday, October 2, 2015

The Keppel Centre is the first of its kind in South-east Asia, and was made possible by a $12 million donation by Keppel Corporation, one of the largest single donations to the arts to date.

The 1,000 sq m facility, located on Level 1 of the City Hall wing, comprises four art spaces, an orientation room and workshop facilities to support school visits to the Gallery.

Among the spaces is an Art Corridor where children can touch and change artworks by interacting with moveable elements.

There is also an Art Playscape, like a giant, colourful storybook come to life, with different trails where young visitors can uncover mysteries and fantastical characters.