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Singapore researchers turn water into 'virtual lemonade'

SINGAPORE: It looks like lemonade, tastes like lemonade, but it is simply water.

Researchers in Singapore say they have invented a “virtual lemonade”, using electrodes to mimic the flavour of the beverage and LED lights to imitate its colour, that could one day allow people to digitally share drinks over the Internet.

“We are primarily motivated by the fact that our current digital interactions are not supportive for sharing beverages and food, which is something very common in our everyday lives,” said Nimesha Ranasinghe, who led the team that did the research.

The team conducting the research at the NUS-Keio CUTE Center, a collaboration between the National University of Singapore and Japan’s Keio University, decided to focus on the sour taste of lemonade to prove their idea.

A sensor dipped into a glass of real lemonade collects data on its acidity and colour, which is transmitted via Bluetooth to silver electrode strips on the rim of a tumbler.

The action of a drinker running their tongue over the strip in taking a sip causes the electrodes to simulate the sour taste, while a light-emitting diode (LED) flashes yellow.

The technology can also simulate bitter and salty sensations, Ranasinghe said, adding that it could help people on restricted diets who need to cut back on salt or calories.

“We can even help the people who want to cut down their calorie intake,” she added. “If he craves lemonade, and can have a virtual lemonade, he can get the same experience, but zero calories.”

Still, the design needs some improvement, said student Genevieve Low, a volunteer who participated in tests of the drink.

“I think it’s definitely the way the tongue touches the cup, because no one would, sub-consciously or consciously, put their tongue onto the electrode and then drink the water,” she said in a recent test round.

Another volunteer student, Wang Pan, was surprised by the taste.

“I was imagining the electronic taste, but it’s actually quite real to me because it’s really mild, like mild-sweet. It’s less sour than the real lemonade,” she said. 

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Back to the future: Dinosaur statues stomp into Gardens by the Bay

SINGAPORE: Gardens by the Bay’s Supertree Grove is home to 11 life-sized dinosaur sculptures from now till Apr 2. 

The tallest of them all is a blue Brachiosaurus towering over the others at 16 metres in height. Other sculptures include a 7 metre-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed Rexy, as well as a bright yellow Triceratops known as Tricey. 

Rexy the red Tyrannosaurus is almost half of Brachy’s height, at 9m. (Photo: Gardens by the Bay)

The sculptures have been installed as part of the Children’s Festival, which kicks off on Mar 10. Gardens by the Bay said the team behind the project took two months to design and produce them. 

Tricey the yellow Triceratops. The dinosaurs will “roar to life” from Mar 10 to Apr 2, every day from 10am to 9pm at the Supertree Grove. (Photo: Gardens by the Bay) 

Other highlights of the festival include prehistoric-themed activities such as a dinosaur egg hunt, music performances by local artists Benjamin and Narelle Kheng of The Sam Willows and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, carnival rides, as well as storytelling sessions. 

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Ahead of Budget 2017, NTUC calls for support to help workers transition into new economy

SINGAPORE: The labour movement on Tuesday (Jan 17) called on the Government to provide more support to help workers transition into the new economy.

It said it is particularly concerned about people’s ability to maintain their competitiveness, given the fast-changing labour market brought about by rapid technological disruption, new requirement for skills as well as an ageing and shrinking workforce.

In its recommendations for Budget 2017, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) outlined four key areas to focus on, among them to improve the system to help the unemployed find jobs.

NTUC suggested that the Government share Jobs Bank information with its Future Jobs, Skills and Training (FJST) capability and Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), so that both parties can better match workers to jobs. The labour movement said this would also help it identify the new skills which are required and put in place relevant training programmes.

MAKE TRAINING COURSES MORE ACCESSIBLE

To ensure workers remain employable, the labour movement called on the Government to “plug existing structural gaps” in the current systems of training, citing a recent survey it conducted which showed that almost half of the respondents did not attend training or upskilling courses in the past year.

The NTUC proposed that employees be given more training leave and training allowances, as well as credit top-ups to the SkillsFuture scheme. Courses should also be made modular and “bite-sized”, it said.

To help women who want to re-enter the workforce, the labour movement suggested a “returnship programme” – similar to an internship – where these women enter a job trial for several months, before they are formally employed.

It also proposed a special employment credit for employers who hire these women.

IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY, FAIR TERMS FOR WORKERS

More support for businesses is required as they adopt measures that are less labour-intensive, said the labour movement. “The Government can take the lead in industry transformation projects … tripartite partners will need to help all companies up their productivity game, and ensure that such gains are shared with their workers,” it said.

It added that productivity schemes can be enhanced with sector-level projects and resource-pooling among companies, with special emphasis on sectors such as F&B, retail and construction.

With changing employment models, the labour movement is also proposing a relook of laws to better protect the interests of workers on non-traditional work arrangements, such as contract workers and freelancers. It said outsourced workers, too, must be protected and suggested enhancing the law governing procurement practices for outsourced services.

“Though we may face short-term and more immediate challenges, all parties – from the Government, businesses, working people to society at large – will need to endeavour to prepare for what lies ahead,” said NTUC.

Budget 2017 will be delivered on Feb 20.

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WIDER IMAGE: Philippines drug war turns a teeming jail into a haven

MANILA: Jason Madarang, awaiting trial on a charge of drug use, is in a muggy, windowless cell in a Manila prison so overcrowded that inmates must sleep in halls and stairwells and share each toilet with 150 other men.

But with President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” raging beyond the walls of Quezon City Jail, Madarang says he is lucky.

“It’s safer here,” he said. “Outside, if the police want to shoot you, they shoot you, and then say you’re a drug pusher.”

The Philippines police say they have only shot drug suspects in legitimate operations.

Nearly 2,300 drug users and dealers have been killed in police operations or by suspected vigilantes since Duterte took office on June 30, according to the Philippines police.

Thousands more have been arrested, filling the country’s already seething jails to bursting point.

Quezon City Jail was built to hold 800 inmates but is now home to over 3,400 – far too many for its cell area, which is roughly equivalent to three basketball courts.

In mid-August, as Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign intensified, the population briefly topped 4,000 until the jail insisted that detainees were sent elsewhere.

“If we hadn’t done that, we’d have 5,000 inmates by now,” said Lucila Abarca, the prison’s Community Relations Officer.

Two thirds of the inmates are inside on drug-related offences, according to data maintained by the prison.

Quezon City Jail is a teeming microcosm of a regional crisis driven by an explosion in use of methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug popular across Asia.

Prisons in countries such as Thailand and Myanmar are also chronically overcrowded, thanks largely to inmates on drug-related charges, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

But Philippine jails are Asia’s most congested, with an occupancy level of 316 percent, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) at Birkbeck, University of London.

Globally, the ICPR ranks the Philippines third in prison occupancy levels, behind only Haiti and Benin.

It was natural that the government’s “aggressive campaign against criminality and drugs” would boost the jail population, said Jesus Hinlo, Undersecretary for Public Safety at the Department of the Interior and Local Government, which is in charge of Quezon City Jail.

“The solution is…to build new and bigger jails,” he said, adding that a lack of funds made this a challenge.

“WELCOME TO HELL”

Prison overcrowding poses “a very big challenge for us in terms of security and the health status of inmates,” said Abarca, the prison officer.

Inmates sleep poorly and easily fall sick, she said, and tensions always simmer over the cramped conditions. In July, there was a cholera outbreak caused by contaminated water.

Someone has chalked “WELCOME TO HELL” on the steps leading to Jason Madarang’s cellblock.

But the 29-year-old municipal worker, who said five people near his Manila home had been shot dead in recent months, wasn’t the only inmate who felt safer there.

His cellmate, Marconino Maximo, 39, said he was arrested a year ago and charged with possessing a pipe for smoking crystal methamphetamine, known in the Philippines as shabu.

“I’m lucky to be here because so many people have been killed,” he said.

“There are many police on the outside,” added Maximo, gesturing around his seething, dungeon-like cell. “Here, there are none.”

There are rarely any prison officers either. Most cellblocks are run by one of four gangs, whose leaders are relied upon to keep the peace, Abarca said.

“Riots can still happen,” said Abarca. “We have to conduct regular dialogue with cell leaders to address their issues.”

Inmates can’t be locked in the cells at night because the cells aren’t big enough. They sleep on the stairs – one inmate per step – and string hammocks from the rafters and spill into the chapel and classroom.

Others bed down in the prison’s only exercise area, its basketball court. When it’s not raining.

CHOLERA OUTBREAK

Each morning at 8 a.m., many inmates crowd around the basketball court to sing the national anthem and take part in a short aerobic exercise.

Inmates are encouraged to be as active as possible during the day, Abarca said. But, inmates told a Reuters journalist touring the prison that many men catch up on sleep during the day in the space left by cellmates who exercise, pray in the chapel or form long lines for one of 24 toilets.

At least 2,000 inmates are inside on bailable offences, according to prison statistics, but most are too poor to pay the bond.

The overcrowding is also a symptom of the slow pace of Philippines justice. Many inmates wait years for their cases to grind through courts.

Duterte’s anti-narcotics crackdown is popular with the public – 84 percent of respondents approved of the campaign in an opinion poll last month. But some critics say it has been felt disproportionately by the poor, and that major drug traffickers routinely evade arrest.

Given the choice, former drug user Dennis Charles Ledda, 29, said he would take his chances on the outside.

“It’s hell here, mentally and physically,” said Ledda, who sleeps in the crawl space beneath another man’s bunk.

“Truly, I used drugs,” he said. “But if I could get out of here I’d do anything to fix my life.”

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Teen arrested for crashing Nissan GT-R into Toyota

SINGAPORE: An 18-year-old was arrested on Monday (Aug 29) for dangerous driving after he crashed a Nissan GT-R into a Toyota car. He is under suspicion for taking part in an unauthorised speed trial at the open car park near Stadium Road, police said in a media statement.

The accident took place on Saturday at about 6.30pm. According to police, the Nissan GT-R was believed to have been accelerating and travelling at high speed prior to the collision.

Both vehicles were seriously damaged as a result of the accident and the 65-year-old Toyota driver reportedly sustained injuries to his ribs.

Police said the suspect was arrested on Monday and his driving license suspended with immediate effect. The GT-R involved in the collision has also been impounded by Traffic Police.

(Photo: Singapore Police Force)

Motorists found guilty of taking part in unauthorised speed trials can be jailed for up to six months and fined between S$ 1,000 and $ $ 2,000.

Repeat offenders can be jailed up to 12 months and fined between S$ 2,000 and S$ 3,000. 

Motorists convicted of dangerous driving can be fined up to S$ 3,000 or jailed up to 12 months, or both.

Repeat offenders can be fined up to S$ 5,000 or jailed up to two years, or both.

“The Traffic Police takes a stern view on such dangerous road behaviour as it puts the lives of the drivers and other road users at risk. Such errant motorists will be taken to task and can be expected to be dealt with to the full extent of the law,” police said.

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Singapore to pump additional S$200m into water industry over next 5 years

SINGAPORE: The Republic will pump an additional S$ 200 million into the water industry over the next five years, announced Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Lee Kuan Yew Prize award ceremony on Monday evening (Jul 11).

The new tranche of funding will be channelled into three key areas – research, commercialisation and export of technology, and talent development.

With the new funding, national water agency PUB hopes that the sector can provide a total of 15,000 jobs and add about S$ 2.8 billion to the economy by 2020. It is also looking to fund research projects that explore industrial water solutions, smart water systems and integration. 

Mr Lee said one of the reasons the Republic has had an adequate supply of water in Singapore is because of its investments in recycling. He noted that with investments in research and development (R&D) and water treatment plants, Singapore has reached a point where recycled used water comprises 30 per cent of the nation’s water supply.

Mr Lee added that Singapore will continue to spend more on R&D.

He said: “We’ve already spent I think more than S$ 600 million over the years developing membranes, techniques, processes to make recycled water. And for our next R&D programme over the next five years, we’re going to spend another S$ 200 million. We also have put a lot of effort into closing the water cycle.”

Meanwhile, PUB’s chief engineering and technology officer, Mr Harry Seah, said: “If you look 50 years down the road, you’ll find that most of the water will be used by industries. It’s very important for us to develop this industrial water solution so that we encourage or get the industries to recycle the water.”

According to Mr Seah, as the automation and smart water system gets more complex, the operation has to be safer and easier to maintain. “Integration is important because Singapore is a very small place,” he said.

“Through integration, where we try to integrate our Deep Tunnel Sewage System Phase 2, we integrate the refuse incineration plant so we see the synergies between the two, so that in the end as a total system, we achieve lower carbon footprint, which means we use less power and waste footprint,” he added.

Singapore’s investment in the water sector has seen significant results. The Government ploughed in S$ 470 million from 2006 to 2015. During this period, the sector added 14,000 jobs and S$ 2.2 billion to the economy, exceeding targets set of 11,000 jobs and S$ 1.7 billion in value-add to the economy.

Said Economic Development Board’s executive director of cleantech, Mr Goh Chee Kiong: “We view the water industry as one of the very few industry clusters in Singapore where we have a truly global leadership position in.

“By setting aside an additional S$ 200 million, we hope that we can translate more research ideas into commercialisable products and services and translate to real economic growth for both Singaporean companies as well as international companies.”

While smaller companies may face challenges in going international due to issues like a shortage of talent, IE Singapore said they can still gain a foothold in high-growth areas.

“Industrial wastewater is also another very critical segment,” said Mr Kow Juan Tiang, group director of environment and infrastructure solutions at IE Singapore. “Industrial wastewater is about certain factories coming together, so the size of the projects is smaller. This enables many Singapore companies which are smaller in size to participate in this particular area.”

At the ceremony on Monday, the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize was presented to the city of Medellin – the second-largest city in Colombia – while the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize was presented to Professor John Anthony Cherry, a renowned hydrogeologist.

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State visit 'timely', as Mexico looks to Singapore to expand into Asia

MEXICO CITY: Singapore’s President Tony Tan has wrapped up his five-day State Visit to Mexico City.

In an interview with the media, Dr Tan said the strong relationship forged between Singapore and Mexico can be a foundation to strengthen partnership at three levels.

First, Singapore is regarded the regional hub of Asia, like how Mexico is for Latin America. Both countries can then take this opportunity of strengthened bilateral ties to use each other as gateways to huge markets in the two regions.

As key players in their respective regions, Singapore and Mexico can also leverage their roles in ASEAN and the Pacific Alliance – a trade bloc comprising of four countries, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru – to strengthen ties between their two regional communities.

And lastly, on a country-to-country level, Dr Tan emphasised that with greater collaboration, the two countries can now tap on each other’s strengths in sectors like oil and gas, manufacturing and urban infrastructure, especially after the signing of the various Memorandums of Understandings (MoUs) over the past five days.

“The MoUs which we have signed now will set the stage for these developments, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come automatically. We have to build on it,” said Dr Tan.

He pointed out that Mexico is starting to open up and diversify its economy, adding that it is looking to build a strong presence is Asia. “Singapore can help them to expand in this area as well. I think in that way, both sides will benefit, provided that the reforms are sustained.”

Dr Tan was referring to the sweeping reforms made under Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in sectors like energy, telecommunications, finance and education, since he took office in late 2012.

“The economy will be transformed. More importantly, it would be more open, more accessible, there will be more opportunities for Singapore companies, and I think this is the right time to look seriously at Mexico. You can’t do everything within three days, but we’ve made a start,” Dr Tan added.

These developments also make Dr Tan’s State Visit to Mexico City “timely”.

‘HIGH REGARD’

Dr Tan also noted that Mexico has a “high regard” for Singapore brands and companies, but the question is how to translate that into “tangible, concrete results”. As to what Singapore can stand to gain from its relationship with Mexico, Dr Tan said it is a “two-way street”.

“We want to encourage more Mexican companies to come to Singapore. They can also use Singapore as a gateway into Asia for their operations, and in that case, we will benefit. Singapore is too small to be a one-way donor to Mexico. But we can see economic benefits for us as well, if our companies succeed here, then of course, it benefits Singapore,” he added.

Singapore companies also seem to be eager in setting up shop in Mexico, especially as they step out of their comfort zones and explore non-traditional markets like China, India, Europe and North America.

“We’re an open trading nation. We always have to look forward for new areas,” said Dr Tan, cautioning that “if you don’t look for new markets, your growth will stagnate.”

Earlier in the week, Mexico’s Economic Development Minister highlighted that while bilateral trade has grown significantly in the past decade, imports to and from both countries remain very low, ranging from 0.5 to 1 per cent.

‘CHICKEN AND EGG’

On whether this State Visit and deepening of bilateral ties will increase that number, Dr Tan said it is a “chicken-and-egg process”.

“If we do nothing, nothing will happen so I hope my visit will be a start,” Dr Tan. “I think it’s already done, in a sense that my visit here, together with the ministers, has actually made Singapore more visible to the authorities here.

“They know about Singapore as a success story, but they have to hear it from the ground, and a State Visit is always useful from that point of view to register our presence to a wider section of the Mexican public and the authorities.”

Another aspect of this State Visit was to promote cultural exchanges between the two countries. Dr Tan said both countries are strengthening ties between their universities, institutes of higher learning and research institutes. Nanyang Technological University also just signed a MoU with the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

But more can be done on this front, despite the language barrier, which can be overcome as more Singaporeans pick up Spanish, he said. “I hope more Singapore students will come to Mexico as a new market and a new environment, and this would be one way of building more bridges between Mexico and Singapore”, he added. 

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