Monday 19 December 2016

There's real news, there's fake news & then there's satirical fake news

I’m sorry.

I did not start it, but I may have contributed to it.

Earlier this month, you might have read this headline on your Facebook timeline: “President Tan invites Thailand’s new king to visit Singapore to eat KFC.”

As much as I like KFC (especially the Red Hot Chicken coated in paprika batter), there is some incongruity in the notion that our head of state would invite Thai royalty to eat fast food that is readily available in the king’s home country.

You might have at first dismissed this as fake news from a local satirical site like New Nation, whose tagline is “50% real news”.

But then it’s not from the New Nation — it’s from The Straits Times.

So your next thought was that someone at The Straits Times was going to get fired.

But as it turned out, anyone could’ve copied the link to The Straits Times article, pasted it on Facebook and changed the headline.

The paper finally addressed this issue last Monday:
“The users could have verified the veracity of the headline by simply clicking the Facebook link through to the article.

“Not only was the headline to the linked article different, the story made no mention of fried chicken or any invitation to consume it.”

But KFC doesn’t sell only fried chicken. You could have the Fish Ole Burger too, you know?

Alas, the article also doesn’t mention the Fish Ole Burger or any invitation to consume it, so the KFC headline is obviously fake.

Fake news has become such a problem that last week, Facebook announced plans to fight fake news because every day is not April Fool’s Day.

In a way, I blame The Onion.

Started in the late 1980s in the same US town where I went to college — Madison, Wisconsin — the Peabody award-winning satirical newspaper became well-known for its humorous fake news stories like “Kim Jong-Un Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012”, which the Chinese Communist Party took seriously.

The Onion begot New Nation, which begot whoever thought it was funny to embellish The Straits Times headline.

I once laughed at former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Hwee Hua for sharing on Facebook an Onion article as fact.

But when a man shot up a US pizza restaurant two weeks ago after believing a fake news story, it’s not so amusing any more.

At least it wasn’t a KFC restaurant.

While it may be unfair to lump The Onion and its satirical ilk with the conspiracy theorists who claimed the pizzeria harboured a child abuse ring, it’s tricky enough to tell real news from fake news without having to make the distinction between fake news and fake news intended as satire as well.

And here is where I have to take some responsibility too.

In July, when radio DJs Glenn Ong and Jean Danker announced that they had finally set a wedding date five years after announcing their engagement, I wrote a column pleading — I mean, asking to be invited to the wedding.

You know, since I missed his first two.

Ong was previously married to fellow DJs Kate Reyes and Jamie Yeo. Not at the same time, of course.

That article might have given the impression that I wanted very badly to be invited to Ong’s third wedding, which was on Friday.

For that, I apologise.

It was fake news. It was satire.

For the record, I don’t really care whether I was invited to the wedding.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m deeply hurt that I didn’t get a invitation.

I mean, everybody was there! Hossan Leong, Beatrice Chia, the guy who used to date Joanne Peh before she married Qi Yuwu — everybody!

A photo posted by Hossan Leong (@hossanleong) on

A photo posted by lobinhoot (@lobinhoot) on

A video posted by Glenn Ong (@glennn) on

Except me.

But like I said, just because I devoted an entire column to listing all the reasons I should be invited, it didn’t mean I actually wanted to be invited.

How hard-up do you think I am?

I had better things to do on Friday night.

I had a very delicious KFC Red Hot Chicken meal.

And that’s the truth.

- Published in The New Paper, 19 December 2016

EARLIER: Please invite me to your wedding, Glenn Ong (I missed your first two)

Sunday 18 December 2016

Final Performance Series race at Kranji: The smelliest run ever

This morning was the fifth and final race of the Performance Series and also my last race of the year.

The race was held in Kranji going past several fish farms.

It was called a "farm run". My wife called it the smelliest run ever. I knew she would say that! The early morning rain didn't help.

But somehow, I achieved my best time of the five Performance Series races, which was a nice way to end my running year.

As with previous Performance Series races, there were some logistical problems, this time mostly due to the rural location of the race.

But for all frustrations, you can't deny the ambition of organising five races around Singapore over eight months:

And you got to hand it to the organisers - they actually pulled it off.

My wife put her five finisher's medals together and made this map of Singapore.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Sunday no more: Act Blur column now in The New Paper every other Monday

I guess I should have mentioned this earlier.

This is for readers who follow my Act Blur column in The New Paper. The column has been published regularly on Sunday for a few years now.

But as of the first of this month, The New Paper on Sunday is no more. So my column has been moved to Monday.

Yes, it's the end of an era.

With the change, I asked for the column to go fortnightly.

Hopefully, by coming out every two weeks instead of every week, the column would suck only half as much. (Or at least, half as often.)

Also, I want to do less work.

Since my column appeared last Monday, there won't be one in The New Paper tomorrow.

But it will return on 19 December, Monday.

Unless someone comes to his senses and realises the paper is better off without Act Blur.

Monday 5 December 2016

How Singtel broadband outage on Saturday turned us into savages

I watched TV on Saturday evening.

This could mean only one of two things.

Saturday was National Day and the parade was on.

Or the Internet was down.

Despite that one neighbour who is still displaying the Singapore flag, I believe we’re way past Aug 9.

Which means the reason I turned on my 32-inch Samsung for the first time in months was the Internet. Or rather, the lack of it.

When I first lost the connection on Saturday morning, I thought something was wrong with my computer. So I turned off and on my computer because that’s what they always tell you to do when you call tech support.

When that didn’t work, I turned off and on my router. When that didn’t work, I checked Twitter on my phone using mobile data.

That was when I found out that the Singtel fibre broadband was down.

To double-confirm, I went to the Singtel Facebook page, which said:
“Some customers may be experiencing difficulties accessing their fibre broadband services. Our engineers are working to resolve the problem. Thank you for your patience.”
So the only way to find out that you have no Internet is on the Internet.

As one of the savage 35,000 comments on the Singtel Facebook post pointed out:
“It is baffling how customers were not informed through an SMS and/or an automated call that Singtel was experiencing a massive outage.

“This outage is even more frustrating for those customers who had no idea that an outage was existent, and were frantically trying all means and ways to solve their Internet issues — only to find out through Facebook (since when did social media become the main channel of communication?) that an outage had happened.”
Hey, that was what happened to me.

Had I known it was a problem with the broadband itself, I wouldn’t have wasted my time turning off and on my devices like a chump.

To make up for the outage, Singtel advised “affected customers who are also Singtel postpaid mobile subscribers to use their Singtel mobile broadband in the meantime” and said it would waive their Singtel mobile data charges for Saturday.

This led to another uproar as not all Singtel broadband customers are Singtel mobile customers.

One Facebook commenter advised:
“For non-Singtel mobile subscribers, forget about asking for data waiver. They’ll say you die not my problem. I’m using Starhub. So I know I’m screwed. But making noise/spamming isn’t gonna rectify an already known problem.”
Since I am a Singtel mobile subscriber, I took advantage of the waiver and used my mobile data on Saturday like there was no tomorrow.

And then I got this SMS from Singtel:
“You have used 90% of your monthly data bundle… Additional data charges apply if you exceed your data bundle.”
Huh? But I thought charges would be waived!

There is a tomorrow after all.

Oh no, do I have to sell my first-born on Carousell to pay my next Singtel bill?

I panicked. Which should I believe, the Singtel SMS or the Singtel Facebook post?

I wasn’t the only one worried about this. Someone tweeted:
“I can’t seem to trust Singtel saying free data today cos the counter keeps increasing.

With the limited Net access, you would think that people would have better things to do online than commenting on Singtel’s Facebook page and changing news headlines.

On Saturday, The Straits Times (ST) alerted its readers to a Facebook post where “an ST article with the headline ‘President Tan conveys best wishes to Thailand’s new King, invites him to visit Singapore’ had been modified”.

It added that it viewed “this act of mischief seriously and will not hesitate to take action against those involved”.

It didn’t say how the headline was modified. So I wasted precious data to find out that someone had added the words “to eat KFC” at the end of the headline.

Apparently, some people actually believed the amended headline was written by ST.

So far, KFC has not commented on this. Maybe it couldn’t because it uses Singtel fibre broadband.

But Singtel said fibre broadband were fully restored as of 8.25am yesterday. I wouldn’t be surprised if the problem was found to be caused by a rogue train.

The telco also offered its broadband subscribers a 10 per cent discount for this month and will waive local mobile data charges for both Saturday and yesterday for its post-paid mobile customers.

But it can’t give me back my Saturday evening which I wasted on watching Mirror Mirror starring Julia Roberts on Channel 5. That’s two hours of my life gone forever.

It could’ve been worse. Someone tweeted: “I’m so bored I’ve to read a book. Thank you #Singtel”

A book! Not even a Kindle.

What are we? Savages?

Next thing you know, we could be talking to each other face to face.

Thank you #Singtel.

- Published in The New Paper, 5 December 2016

Dear SM

I am not a regular TNP reader and this is the first time I have read an article by you.

You did a great job in filling the vacuum left by SPH/Straits Times, Media Corp and the rest of the official media as far as communications in times of crisis is involved.

Even SingTel failed. Its 1688 call line was taken over by a computer programmed to tell callers to call back another day as everyone was too busy already.

At ChannelNewsAsia it was business as usual .ie more interested in problems in Jakarta, KL and Myanmar.

You raised very valid points like since when has Facebook become the main channel used to keep Singaporeans informed?

When i finally got through to a human voice after hanging on to the ohone for almost half an hour of repeated apology for keeping me waiting i asked why did SingTel not put out any announcement i was told it was on Facebook! I told her SingTel should play around with Facebook since not every Singapore is addicted to FB and suggested she feed back my comment to her CEO who may not be aware!

It was this 1688 responder who out of the blue told me the secret how to get to the internet using my iPad with Sim card and that data charge would be waived. When i asked who would ensure there would be no charge she said it was programmed so now i wonder how come you got the notice you had exceeded your monthly quota?

Looks like SingTel needs a complete shake up and put through a lie detector test!

For your info the first indication i got that something was wrong was a message on my screen showing three devices and some cables and a message to check all wires were plugged into the devices.Since i dont have pets or children in the house playing with cables that surely was not the cause of the outage. Later i got a message asking for my phone number to enable a check to be done. A few minutes later i was told the test had been completed but not a word of the result and still nothing worked

I hope the "relevant authority" to which SingTel wii report on the cause of the outage and subsequent action taken. But we will not be told but instead our fibre broadband charge will get a 10 % discount -- in my case $5.60 ! I will write to SingTel CEO to keep the $5.60 and instead let me know what really went wrong.

So once again ,thank you SM and keep up the pressure

Denis Distant

Sunday 4 December 2016

Photos: Running 10km in the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore

The 10km flag-off in the SCMS 2016 was delayed from 6.45am to 7am.

But I didn't start until 7.30 as the 12,000 10km runners were flagged off in waves. I was a few waves behind.

It was the first time I joined the Standard Chartered Marathon, albeit in the 10km category

It was also the first time I took part in an event where a runner died.

I didn't find out about it until I reached home.

That's like the third Singapore-related running death in three months.

Singaporean Max Woon, 36, died in a fall while training for the Mount Kinabalu International Climbathon in Malaysia in October.

Singaporean Syed Mohamed Yusof, 37, died from cardiac arrest at the Bintan Reebok Spartan Race last month.

And today, British national John Gibson, 29, died at the Singapore marathon.

All guys under 40.

See you at the finish line.