Random thoughts to close 2010

It’s been quite a year for me, but then again, which year isn’t? This post is a bit random, so don’t mind me as I ramble on abit about the past year, and some bits about the future.

MILESTONES

I dread looking at this book today, but it has taught me much.

I passed my ABRSM Grade 4 violin practical exam (and I think I passed my Grade 5 theory exam, but the results haven’t arrived yet).

I’ve been taking it slow over the past decade since I started learning the violin, but try as I might, I still can’t control the hand jitters during the exam. I just managed to squeeze in a merit scoring, but I’m not as upset as a parent would be if their kid didn’t get a distinction.

Time has taught me that learning music should be about the journey, not the paper slip results. Hopefully, there are many parents who see things the same way and don’t force kids to go for enrichment classes in the hope that their child will become talented or is at least on par with other kiasu families. Exams are necessary for progress, as I found myself too lazy to improve on my playing without the pressure of learning and memorizing set pieces.

What was sometimes awkward this year was having to attend aural and theory classes with kids one-third my age (or less), and getting funny stares as I dropped an octave while singing the scales.

Goodbye to words, hello numbers.

This year, I was given the opportunity to move on from my marcoms role into a product management role, now looking after the Microsoft Hardware peripherals biz (mice, keyboards and webcams). It’s been a huge eye-opener and an incredible learning experience. In a matter of months, my perspectives on things changed dramatically and I’ve been reworking how I approach issues and solve problems. In the process, I recognized and discarded various misconceptions that would have stalled my learning process in the long term.

And where I used to use MS Word and Powerpoint extensively, my time is almost entirely spent within MS Excel now crunching and manipulating numbers, and I have a greater respect than ever for the sheer power built into the MS Office suite. I’m very thankful for this opportunity and I relish the new challenges.

Sounds very politically correct right, especially coming from me? But that’s really how I feel and this is the best way I can convey it. After spending over a decade doing journalism and other media-related work, doing numbers is a nice blast of fresh air. There’s more control over outcomes, and there’s faster gratification (or realization of failure) than with the sometimes unpredictable field of communications.

ON TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY

I think there was more upheaval and change in the way we used technology in 2010 than any other year in history.

Tablets

Like it or not, Apple brought about a new paradigm of computing with the iPad and I don’t need to say more because too much has been published about it. I’m just happy to see the tablet revolution kick off after so many years.

There are so many tablet contenders coming into the market in 2011 and it’s safe to say most of them will not survive the bloodbath. I mean, seriously lah, the market can only take two or three dominant devices in this category. In the days of feature phones, you could have many different products just to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Today, you would want to have a ubiquitious platform and be able to share in the same experience of the same apps with your friends – because most technology companies don’t realize this – apps have become THE talking points, not the hardware. The quality of the apps impact the reputation of the hardware, not vice versa.

Personally, I’m also glad that my kids don’t have to squint at the tiny screens of a Nintendo DS or PSP or iPod just to play their mobile games.

Power Computing On The Cheap

At the same time, I’m not surprised to see netbooks declining in popularity. It’s not so much that the iPad is eating up that market, but more people are starting to realize that you really get a slow and cramped computing experience just to save some money. Even if they come up with better processors, I still say that the netbook form factor is just not ergonomic nor practical.

I’ve never bothered much with netbooks as I’m all for bigger screens and keyboards, and I’m glad to see people appreciating decent computing power. Core i5 laptops (with 4GB RAM and 500GB storage) are going for as cheap as S$999 this holiday season, and it’s great value for money (just wish they wouldn’t sport such glossy materials). Hopefully one day there will be a resurgence back to using powerful desktop computers with massive storage.

But what will really become big in 2011 is Solid State Storage, and I tell you, by the end of 2011, almost everyone who uses a laptop will know what SSD means, and wish they had one of these babies in their PC. I’ve had an SSD in my desktop and laptops for the past year and it’s impossible to go back to normal hard drives for computing anymore. We still need big 1.5TB HDDs for content storage though.

Media Vs Facebook

Tablet media apps like Flipboard and the unstoppable march of Facebook is a greater threat to traditional media than anything else in Internet history. For those traditional media in Asia who have been seeing slower declines than media in the West, well, 2011 is when things start to speed up here folks.

The trouble is that there’s still no sure-win business model online for media outlets, but that’s also because many media companies insist on clinging on to their old business models and profit structures.

In Singapore, the General Elections are coming up in a matter of months, and this will be the first elections where the traditional media will find that opinion is now formed on Twitter and Facebook, not the editorial pages or some poorly laid-out blog.

Hard to believe that Facebook only just arrived a few years ago – it wasn’t around during the last elections!

Then again, Singaporeans are so inert, the ruling party probably won’t see much changes in election results overall.

Facebook Vs Everyone

People have also come to realize the big privacy risks that Facebook presents and I believe most people will come to learn how to use the Limited Profile tool within Facebook to filter out most of the stuff that they post each day.

If you can’t post on my Facebook wall even though you’re on my friends list, it’s because I’ve used the Limited Profile tool to block what you can see. I don’t make any apologies for it because we all need to be very clear who we want to communicate anything to.

Why should I let casual acquaintances see and read every personal thought that I decide to put up on FB (even though it’s already been curated for public use)?

Facebook is a great tool, but please be smart about what you post online and who you want to expose it to. It’s your own responsibility to curate your public persona. Facebook is all about publishing, and everyone needs to learn how to publish “themselves” in the new online society we find ourselves in.

And also, if you are in marketing and not using or understanding Facebook properly, you are officially a dinosaur. Some companies are using FB so improperly it’s painful to see, but they’ll learn when they realize nobody is engaging on their fanpages.

I’m not so hot about Twitter though – I find it entertaining to read, but inefficient for projecting my personal content. Seriously, 140 words is a relic from the days of SMS, and being unable to attach images or video sucks. I believe most people will move on from Twittering when they find more meaningful and contextual conversations being conducted on FB.

On Happiness and Contentment

Happiness and contentment remain my main goals in life. It sounds very broad to go after these two things, but they mean different things to everyone. For me, it can be summed up as being able to sleep easy, not worrying about tomorrow and what is to come, and enjoying what we have today.

Some friends might say that I hardly seem content, since I seem to constantly look out for gadgety materialistic stuff like the latest media streamer or whatever. Well, it’s not that I’m dissatisfied with what gadgets that I already have, it’s just that it makes me content to be able to keep trying out new technologies and simplifying my life in the process. Which brings me to…

Seriously, go digital already

XBMC offers an amazing content management experience on your home theatre PC, and the software is free! The only thing is that you need to spend time archiving all your DVDs properly.

Yesterday I met my old buddy Darren when we both happened to be at The Adelphi looking at audio stuff. To my amazement, the guy has yet to turn his CD library into a digital collection of MP3s. So Darren, if you’re reading this, please start doing so.

And that goes for everyone else too – when it comes to content, try to go digital as much as possible.

Why are you still printing photos to share with people when you can just use Facebook or Flickr? Why are you still buying heavy novels of the latest blockbusters when you can read them on a Kindle, tablet or smartphone?

OK, so we can’t really get digital movies easily in Singapore just yet, but at least I can record HD movies on my StarHub Hubstation.

The key thing that keeps people away from digitizing their content is “Oh it’s too much trouble.” But just spend a good number of hours on it today, and you’re set for the next few decades. It is inevitable to go digital, because storage space for physical goods is always going to be limited, and the sheer convenience of having all my media content in one place still kind of astounds me sometimes.

For example, today, I can always pull down previously purchased Kindle books onto my device of choice if I want to read it but I don’t have my Kindle with me. I can sit on my couch and choose any song/playlist in my MP3 collection on my phone and it plays through my home theatre system within seconds. I’ve compiled all my DVDs onto my home theatre PC, and they’re all displayed beautifully using XBMC software so I don’t always have to dig through the cupboard just to find a disc.

It’s really science fiction come true! The stuff that we can do today, we never even dreamt of when we were kids.

(That is, if your hard disk doesn’t crash, so remember to always back up everything twice over.)

Anyway, happy new year everyone, may you find what you seek and God bless you in 2011 and beyond.