Open Idea: Walking cane with embedded phone

13 02 2009

Hey guys! Recently for one of my modules I was asked to come up with a product design that would improve a home activity for a target group. As it was just an idea brainstorming session, I thought I should share an idea I had here which I think would be useful for many old people around the world with walking difficulties.

Some of you might be asking: Why are you doing this? The reason is simple. My grandfather is very frustrated with this problem and I want to help him resolve it but unfortunately I do not have the technical capabilities to do so. I am throwing this idea out in the open so that anyone who knows about such a technology or will be building it, can inform me so that I can get one for him to make his life easier.

Quick Brief
My grandfather is 80 years old and he is unable to walk without a cane. His walking pace is very slow and often, when the phone rings, he is unable to reach the phone in time to pick it up. He ends up missing the call making it very frustrating for him. I believe this is a dilemma often faced by many elderly people around the world. A simple solution that can be done is to add a cordless phone-like device into the cane. As the cane is always with the elderly person, it will make things much more convenient for him. This modification is a simple addition of a button and an embedded speaker phone. When the phone rings, the cane will emit a ringing sound. The elderly person can press a button on the cane to pick up the call and hear what is being said from the cane, right from wherever he is in the house.

Note that he does not need to bend down and put his ear to the cane as it is using speaker phone technology.
Also note that this is not a handphone but a phone that syncs with the house phone.

I threw in a very rough illustration too to help you guys understand the idea better.

And feel free to drop any comments for discussion! It can be about what you think of the idea, its usability, how it can be more useful, etc. 🙂


Utopia or Nightmare?

9 12 2007

Most of us have thought about how the grass is always greener on the other side, making comparisons between various aspects of foreign countries and our own; living conditions, career prospects, government administration, education opportunities and etc. Remember the guy who created the controversial movie Farenheit 9/11? A few months ago Michael Moore released his latest movie titled Sicko which compared the health care benefits between US, UK and France.

Norway however, was left out of the original movie as Moore thought it was too scary for movie-goers. Was it really that scary? Watch for yourself.

The first thing that came to my mind was “Wow! *_* How do I get a citizenship there?”. It really is paradise! Getting a tropical island vacation during the Winter to help you cope with your illness, police patrolling alongside cute well-groomed poodles, free cars for the disabled, waste-energy generation, no death sentences and much much more. The peaceful and serene environment makes it seem like the perfect place for a slow, comfortable and laid back life. (Not to mention their HIGH GDP! I’d love to feel rich wherever I travel. How did such a small and pristine country get so rich?).

On second thought, it is too scary a place to live in! Everything looks too peaceful and ideal to be true; almost like the scenes you see only in Disney fairytales and The Stepford Wives. It is the relaxing, carefree lifestyle a lot of us city dwellers have been aspiring to have but for retirement? Maybe only a year. For rest of my life? No. Its too peaceful and boring. I need some occasional chaos to make life a bit more interesting or else this utopia will in the long-run become a nightmare. For holiday? Yes, if I can afford it. It’d be fun to live in a fairytale once in a while.

What about for you? Is Norway a nightmare or utopia?

Tony Blair shares personal stories in NUS

10 11 2007

Tony Blair NUS

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a talk by Tony Blair! It was a public lecture held at the University Cultural Centre on “The Crisis in Global Governance: Challenges & Solutions”. I was really excited when I received the invitation. Although some say you could easily watch videos of him online, seeing him in person was really an experience in itself.

As expected, the delivery of his speech was flawless; very personal and engaging. What I liked most about it was how he slipped in snippets of his personal life, experience and political jokes (which was more of a highlight than the core topic). If you read some journals on Global Governance, you would have heard 70% of his speech. Hence, I will be writing more about the personal things he shared.

Technology is a DEMON
Blair started off by speaking about his “tech-savvy”ness. It seems, believe it or not, he has never written an e-mail or used a cell phone before his resignation. All of us were amused to hear this coming from the former leader of one of the world’s most developed nations! He only got himself acquainted with a cell phone a month after leaving office. One can only imagine the amount of pampering he got from his assistants.

He then moved on to talk about how technology is globalizing the world to a stage where a small incident happening across the world can have a future effect on his country and whether we like it or not, we are all “globalizers” by default. (This reminds me of the book “The World is Flat”).

Some leadership points…
Following from the above, a leader must be able to see this future effect and implement quick measures to counter it, which he uses to justify his decision on Iraq. Bush and him believed that if Saddam continued to be in power, both their countries will soon face serious negative effects which he did not define.

He then highlighted how leaders have to make unpopular decisions which may at times seem rash, for a future benefit that is not currently evident. He references this with the university fee hike incident that almost cost him his job. The rational is he saw a future where US universities would be overtaking UK universities in being world leaders unless a fee hike was implemented to improve facilities, research and the infrastructure. Looking at the world university rankings, guess he was right.

My summary: Good leaders are able to connect seemingly unrelated dots to weave a web of the future.

Politicians lie more than we think!
Another personal story he shared was about “something” he always wanted to do but couldn’t until his resignation. Every time new buzz words are introduced, he has a very short time frame to understand them. Sometimes before he is able to do so he gets questions where he has to respond in a manner that shows he understands it. For the first time in 8 years, he got a phone call where someone said “Such such and such, these are the statistics, what do you think?” and he could sincerely respond “I don’t know”. He was overjoyed at being able to do this, showing how much politicians lie!

A particularly interesting phrase he mentioned (which will be my favourite for a long time) goes:

“Politicians are only telling you the truth when they tell you something you don’t want to hear. They do this because an alternative explanation would make them look stupid”.

My friend’s immediate response: “No wonder Bush always sound stupid”.

The birth of his son
Tony Blair is the first British prime minister to have a son born during his term in 150 years. When the announcement of his wife being pregnant was made, the whole country brewed with excitement. He then said “Sometimes it makes you wonder what the previous prime ministers of the past 150 years were doing”.

Apart from the British, one guy (I forgot who) in Northern Ireland was excited about this news as well. During a meeting there, he pulled Blair aside and asked “Oh! Its wonderful that you’re having a child. What’s the child’s name going to be?”. Blair answered “Well, if its a boy, I’ll name him after my dad. If its a girl, I’ll name her ____”.

At the same meeting a year later, Blair noticed the guy had a VERY nice tan, one which you can’t get in Northern Ireland. Blair approached him and asked “Wow, that’s a nice tan you got there! Where did you get it?” and the reply was “Well, the bookmakers were offering a lot for the name of the child”. Blair’s response? “………………”

From politician to idealist
One of the changes I noticed in Blair’s speech was how the statements he make now are more idealistic and sincere. His solutions to the challenges of Global Governance are great solutions which we hope will happen, but know may not be possible when implemented because of the numerous problems that will crop up.

For example, during the Q&A session, he was posed a question on how to resolve the Palestine–Israel conflict. According to him, to effectively resolve this, governments of both countries need to sit down together and come up with a compromise which both sides are willing to agree with.

He believes that there are people in both countries who want to resolve this age-old conflict and move on to more bigger plans. In fact, he believes that Israel is not so concerned about land ownership but rather the level of Israel’s security. His proposed solution is for Palestine to build up the infrastructure of the city while Israel simultaneously implements measures to address security concerns.

To many, this is an impossible solution as these 2 countries have been fighting for a dream they have believed in for ages. Asking them to make a compromise would be hitting a brick wall. Then again, there have been seemingly outrageous ideals of the past which have lead to positive outcomes. Hence, I’d disagree with those who say that Blair’s proposals are impossible until we try them out.

As said by Anatole France (1844 – 1924):

To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act.

Overall, his speech left me on an extremely inspired and delighted note. He is a truly great public speaker who gets his message through with simplicity, clarity and effortless engagement. 🙂

Thank you to my university for inviting Tony Blair to speak and for opening up this rare opportunity to students! I heard that it costs quite a bit to get him. (Rumours are, US$500K). Am definitely looking forward to hearing his future speeches. 🙂

Dr Josef Mengele – Madman and Angel of Death

12 09 2007

I have 2 response papers and one essay to write this week which further goes on to affirm the rumour that the University Scholars Program (USP) is actually a writing course where you inevitably have to do TONS of writings for every module. I believe that by the time I graduate, I’d know the rules of academic writing and the various citation styles by the back of my hand.

Although I’m grumbling away, I inherently love the assignments because there’s lots of flexibility to pick what to write about and respond to. For example, one of my assignments is to write about a biomedical research using human subjects that is unethical while applying the principles and concepts of ethical theories. Having recently read the book Night by Elie Wiesel about the atrocities during the German holocaust, I decided to pick the case of the “Twins of Auschwitz” for my essay.

In Night, Wiesel detailed the horrors and extremes of human behaviour he experienced and witnessed at the Auschwitz concentration camp including the deadly “Selection process” conducted by Dr Josef Mengele. He wrote about how Dr Mengele would have everyone queue up in a line and direct them either to the right or left, one being death (aka the crematorium) and the other life (more suffering in the camp). What Wiesel didn’t know at that time was besides pointing people to death, Dr. Mengele was also selecting human subjects to be used for his brutal experiments.

I find this very interesting because I’ve come by 2 accounts of a story; one of a survivor who was asked to work in extreme conditions, and another of research subjects who survived the experiments. Both parties had encounters with the same, infamous Dr Josef Mengele. This prompted me to research further into why this madman who whistles Mozart, distributed candy and played with children like a father would succumb to conducting such murderous researches.

According to history, Nazi Germany had the belief the Aryan race was the superior race and for the future of mankind, all cancerous traits which were identified as Jews, Gypsies and the mentally ill should be eradicated. This led society to place these “cancers” as unimportant objects that could be exploited. Hence, the concentration camps were seen as a “gold mine” for many German researchers. Most of Dr. Mengele’s research subjects were obtained from these camps, with 3,000 twins from Auschwitz alone.

Obsessed with the idealogy of bettering the “superior race”, Dr. Mengele strived to find a way for Aryan women to assuringly give birth to blue-eyed, blond children. His crazed belief was that achieving this would save future of mankind. Hence, he conducted numerous researches on twins to discover the secret of heredity. Among some of the painful experiments were testing on factors that affected eye colour via eye drops and injections, organ removal surgeries without anesthesia and injection of mysterious diseases into bodies of children. Best part is, the craze does not stop there.

The reason why he used twins is also because they are so genetically alike, it’d be easy to make comparisons. Usually experiments would be conducted on one twin while the other was used as a control and very frequently, when one twin dies, the other is executed for analysis. According to records, only 200 out of 3,000 twins survived the research and until today, none of them knew what Dr Mengele had injected into their tiny bodies which left some suffering for 5 years after the war.

The treatment of research subjects showed how far Dr. Mengele was willing to go for the German ideal of the “superior race”. How was such an educated, civilized and cultured man capable of such deranged faculties, especially in pursuit of an equally deranged ideal? Furthermore, how was it that a whole country was convinced into believing such an ideal? The holocaust showed how people have the tendency to forsaken humanity at times of great depression, easily convinced into believing any outrageous ideal that may seem to bring a glimmer of hope and the extreme lengths they are willing to take in realizing it.

The uncertainties and extremes of human behaviour can sometimes be really dangerous when you think of it, especially when imagining yourself in such a situation. Although the horrors experienced by the victims of both Dr. Mengele and the holocaust can never be reproduced, people can definitely be reminded of the cause and effects to avoid such incidents that may push humans to forsaken humanity from happening again. In the words of a survivor, “It is not history who repeats itself. It is us who repeat history“.

For Twins of Auschwitz, Time to Unlock SecretsThe New York Times
Mengele’s Children: The Twins at
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Holocaust, Crimes Heroes and Villains

Book to read:
Night by Elie Wiesel

Boy builds Windmill at 14 to give his house electricity

4 09 2007

One of my close friends was telling me earlier today about his failure to secure a promotion and how his future career is now all doomed. He was extremely depressed and seemed to be stuck in this “DOOMed for life” world he created, and wouldn’t let anyone in to get him out. I decided to reduce the number of words I was about to say to him and replace it with this short but inspiring 6 minute video I found.

Its a video of William Kamkwamba, a young African boy who built a windmill to provide his house with electricity back when he was 14! If you look at the “ingredients” he used for his windmill, they are mostly junk parts which you will probably be able to find around your house. I don’t know how long it took him to build the windmill but it definitely doesn’t look like any easy feat. The windmill looks HUGE!! Also, believe it or not, he learnt how to build it from a book he found at the library.

Wha?! All I’ve been using the library for is to get the books I needed to study for exams. Shame on me. It really goes on to show how the high emphasis on exams in our education system has hampered our creativity and lead us to spend most of our time studying for exams rather than being creative in applying the knowledge we have. 😦

Anyway, enough rants from me. Just thought of sharing the video to inspire others who are facing turmoils in their lives to look at things differently. William shows that our life is only how we perceive it to be. Instead of complaining about his government, corruption and how poor his life was, he chose to look at it differently and take the initiative to improve his life himself instead of waiting for something to happen. And, he ended up at TED. He really deserves the honour ! 🙂

Additional resources:

Meeting William Kamkwanba

William’s blog

Lecturers should read blogs of students

15 08 2007

After attending half a week of lectures, I’m beginning to have reservations about some modules I’ll be studying this semester. Not because of the students, not because of the syllabus but because of the lecturers. Don’t get me wrong, the lecturers are very familiar with the materials they’ll be imparting to the students. They definitely have the necessary qualifications and knowledge to stand where they are.

However, teaching styles can go a long way in drawing a concrete, defining line between fun and appealing lectures and the contrary. There are lectures which captivates the students’ attention throughout, there are those that leave students in discussion with their friends for hours(and sometimes days) and those that put students into the process of day dreaming. Sometimes I wish there was a way I could let my professor know my thoughts about today’s lecture, like how I enjoyed it, how I thought it was too slow and etc.

Like many other aspects of life, the positive comments are easier to convey than the negative ones. I’m pretty sure very few(or should I say 0?) students have approached a professor to give negative feedback about the day’s lecture. NUS has this feedback process for each lecturer and tutor at the end of every semester which students will fill up. Unfortunately, having a similar one at the end of every lecture would be too tedious for not only the administration but also students.

Fortunately, there is a constant, indirect feedback platform which academicians have not utilized for this function, yet. Most students nowadays are very connected online and like most youths(especially girls), we love to rant about things with complaints about lectures not excluded. We rant about it on various online social media tools like Facebook, Friendster, Twitter and not forgetting the most convenient ranting platform, blogs. Blogs are definitely the most publicly accessible avenue for students’ thoughts among the social media tools. A quick “google” of a lecturer’s name / module code will return results with writings of students’ thoughts and rants. (Note: Not for every module under the sun though)

The results may be shocking and seem full of negativity as people have a tendency to write about drama more than anything else but it gives the professor an idea of what the students truely think about his lectures. Sometimes even “truer” than what students write in the university feedback forms as they know the probability of their professors reading their blogs is close to 0. The professor can use these comments to improve their teaching styles/methods and in some cases, see what students think of the change as the weeks pass. At the end of the day, the professors get to improve themselves and the students have a more fruitful academic session.

If you like money more than what you like to do, go for the money

27 07 2007

As university is starting soon, I see the cycle of indecisive students repeating itself (by students I mean both current and prospective university students). They start to question things like the program they’re currently in, the major they are about to pick(or am already in), job prospects, opportunities and of course, we can never leave this out: starting salary.

The usual response you’d get from any counselor, admin staff, parent and even friend, would be to just pick what you like doing best and focus on it. The rational behind it would be if you like what you’re doing, you should be able to excel in it. I would not say this is bad advice, but I wouldn’t say it is good advice either. From personal experience and chats with other students, their biggest fear is usually the possibility of them not being good enough in what they like to do and the amount of money they’d potentially make from it. Most of the time, this self-questioning process happens because:

1) Like most people, money is important. Most of us want to have financial stability.
2) We don’t want to end up doing something we hate just to make money.
3) We don’t want to do something we really like and end up with financial difficulties (of course there are exceptions, like idealists).
4) We’re not sure whether we REALLY love what we think we love doing.

I am a student as well and I am not spared from this self-questioning process, neither are most of my friends. We know what we love doing but am worried in the long-run we will get bored / hate it. There are some of us who want to do what we love but at the same time also want to be able to afford all the things we’ve only dreamt of(big house, sports car, cruise ship). My advice?

If you love money more, go for the money.

Take the path that you believe will lead you to financial stability and success. In the current era, people are like shapeshifters. You are what you choose to be. Its true that what you study will in a way affect the job opportunities available to you after you graduate. However, this is not cast in stone. You can still get jobs in other industries/fields, even after many years of working in one industry. More importantly, you can still pursue what you love doing later and vice versa.

A friend of mine told me that she believes money will determine what a person would enjoy doing in the future. I can’t say this statement is not true either, there are successful businessmen worldwide who love what they’re doing because of the money they’re making. If you don’t know what you like to do, but you know you want to earn some mullahs, there’s nothing wrong in trying and experimenting a few fields to see which one you’d enjoy doing while earning a decent income.

At the end of the day, do what you believe would make you happy. If making money would make you happier than your passion, make money. If pursuing your passion would make you happier than making money, go for passion. Even if one may seem like a sacrifice and the other like a huge risk, there’s no harm in trying either. After all, you have to try to know the outcome right? ^_~