Driverless cars save lives

Driverless cars save lives
12 February 2017

ALTHOUGH driverless cars is something all major automakers and even tech companies like Google and Apple are working on, it still feels like it’s in the realm of science fiction.

If you ask someone who’s not in the auto industry if they’d feel comfortable riding in a driverless car, the likely answer is no. And you’d be in good company. According to a recent Deloitte study released in January, nearly 75 per cent of Americans don’t believe driverless cars will be safe.

The expansive study, which surveyed 22,000 consumers from 17 countries, found that a majority of respondents had safety concerns about fully autonomous vehicles, with China at the lowest (62 per cent) and South Korea at the highest (81 per cent). The US is somewhere in between but 75 per cent is not a low figure!

It’s understandable that people have concerns about a new technology that isn’t yet ready for prime time. But this is a serious technology development that will revolutionise the auto industry and it’s not just fad. It’s a certainty that driverless cars will be a common feature in our lives, certainly within a decade.

Why are driverless cars so important that every automaker worth its salt is researching heavily into it? Driverless cars are superior in terms of safety. And by reducing traffic fatalities, it also reduces congestion and carbon emissions.

Every serious study of driverless cars has concluded that they’ll be safer than those driven by people. This shouldn’t be surprising. People are terrible drivers. Consider this: Some 93 per cent of road accidents are caused by human error. People do things they aren’t supposed to do on the road like driving drunk or texting. Sometimes, sleepiness is the cause of accidents. None of these things would happen with a driverless cars (a computer won’t get drunk, get distracted by a Whatsapp message or feel drowsy).

This isn’t to say there are no potential downsides. The most obvious one is that when driverless cars become commonplace, it’ll have a drastic effect on people who drive for a living ­— taxi drivers, Uber drivers, chauffeurs, etc. And if cars can be driverless, presumably so can trucks and buses, so you can also look at massive unemployment in those industries as well.

Traditionally, driving a taxi — or increasingly these days, an Uber — is a profession that many people who get retrenched fall back on. With the advent of driverless cars, driving a car for hire will no longer be a viable option for the newly unemployed.

The other serious potential pitfall is the fact that as cars become more of a digital device and less a mechanical one, it inevitably becomes more susceptible to hacking. Make no mistake, a driverless car will have a huge computing component to it. For a car to be driverless, it needs to not just be good at following set rules but also the ability to recognise patterns and prescribe appropriate responses. This requires a powerful computer. What if someone hacks into it? At best, he decides to just stall the car. At worst, he can make it crash.

Speaking of crash, each time a driverless car crashes — and this will inevitably happen as no system is foolproof — it will be big news. Remember the news about a Tesla Model S which crashed into a truck resulting in the death of the man inside it, in Florida? (Technically, you could call him the “driver” of the car but he wasn’t driving at the time as the car was on autopilot).

An investigation into this high-profile driverless car crash by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cleared Tesla of any defects in its car. As such, there was no need for a recall of that model, which was a “smart car” that had systems capable of maintaining speed and distance to other cars on the road, lane position and overtaking.

The NHTSA said that the driver didn’t apply the brakes and that he “should have been able to take some action before the crash, like braking, steering or attempting to avoid the vehicle. He took none of those actions.” The agency added that the truck should have been visible to the driver for at least seven seconds before impact.

Of course, car crashes happen every day and highway accidents aren’t uncommon. So why would a car crash, involving a driverless car, receive more attention than one that had a driver behind the wheel? Because driverless cars are new and fascinating,so they naturally draw more public scrutiny and attention when something bad happens.

And whenever a driverless car is involved in a fatality, you can be sure that there’ll be some hysterical reaction to it, with some people calling for a ban and others boycotting such cars. That might not be a logical thing to do given that all studies so far have indicated that driverless cars would be much safer than people-driven cars. But people are generally more emotional than rational when it comes to transportation-related deaths.

Look at the case of plane crashes. Whenever that happens, it’s big news and a certain segment of the population will swear off flying anytime soon. Logically, it makes no sense to do that because statistically speaking, planes are way safer than cars when it comes to fatalities. It’s rare that people die in a plane crash but people die in traffic accidents every day.

Whatever misgivings you might have about driverless cars, know this: They’re happening. Driverless cars are the future of the automotive industry and its ascendance is just a matter of when, not if.

For sure, there’ll be car aficionados who’ll want to buy vintage cars that need to be driven by humans. They’re not too different from those who collect vinyl records. But for the rest of us, we can look forward to being driven wherever we want to go. And when that day comes, there’ll be fewer accidents and deaths, as well as less traffic jams and pollution. That’s really something to look forward to.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at


Bullet journalling for mindfulness 

Bullet journalling for mindfulness
5 February 2017

WHEN you talk about a hot new trend that many young people are adopting, you’d naturally think it’s something mobile or online and certainly, something digital. You’d never imagine that it’d be something analogue.

Yet, “Bullet Journalling” in its strictest sense involves a real, physical journal or notebook. This is a system created by a designer named Ryder Carroll, who apparently spent two decades developing this system to stay organised.

So, is it a “To Do List” or a diary? Actually, it’s a bit of both. In a nutshell, it entails taking a physical notebook and using it to create an index of topics and page numbers, a “Future Log” of things that you need to do, and a “Daily Log” which contains bullet point notes about the things you’ve done during a particular day.

There’s an art and science to bullet journalling and Carroll explains it succinctly in his official website (, where you can watch a video of him demonstrating bullet journalling in action.

So, there is a “proper” way to bullet journal but it’s important to note that Carroll himself encourages people to customise and personalise their bullet journals to fit their needs and fancies.

It’s sort of like blogging. When blogging first emerged, there was a conventional way to blog which entailed including an excerpt from a website or web page, a link to that page and the blogger’s own comments about the topic. That was how the pioneer bloggers did their blogging.

As blogging became more mainstream, people used the blogging platform to publish as and how they wished. Some blogs stuck to the original conventions, others did away with excerpt and links, and just stuck to pure commentary.

And so it’ll be with bullet journalling as more and more people adopt this “To Do List”/Diary hybrid activity.

I’ve been doing a version of this for some time now without having even heard of bullet journalling (this is a phrase that I came across relatively recently).

Perhaps, if I had heard of bullet journalling earlier, I might have tried to adopt the conventional way of doing it. But because bullet journalling was something I was doing without any reference points, I had my own way of doing it. And it’s all digital.

I haven’t written something in longhand on a piece of paper in years. The only time I scribble something with a pen is on the few occasions, when I have to send something off by snail mail and have to write the address on the envelope. Other than that, I usually type — either on my laptop or my mobile phone. In a sense, I’m more of a typist than a writer.

So, when it comes to my “To Do List” it’s all digital. There are “To Do List” mobile apps aplenty and lots of computer applications as well as online ones to help you keep track of the things you have to do in a day, a week or a month (or perhaps even in a year). But I go really basic with mine. I just use Google Docs.

While conventional bullet journalling has “Future Logs”, where you can plan things months in advance, I don’t go that far. I plan a week ahead at a time. Each day is broken up into Morning, Afternoon and Evening. On days when I have a particularly busy schedule and a lot has to be done, I become more precise and add additional categories for Dawn, Noon and Late Evening.

I then proceed to fill in all the things I feel I need to achieve during that day. It’s not necessarily realistic but more of an idealistic list of things I want to achieve. For the record, I almost never achieve all that I set to achieve for the day. So, I push forward things to another day. If possible, I try to push it to the next day but sometimes, I have something going on the next day that takes up all my available time. So I have to push it to another day.

I’ll spend quite a bit of time every day moving my chores around because so many unexpected things happen during the day that prevents me from getting everything I want done, done.

It doesn’t bother me much if I have a few items that I need to push to another day. I know it’s inevitable and I’m happy that at least, I can keep track of what still needs to be done. If I didn’t have that list, I’d be totally lost. It would literally be impossible for me to keep track of all I’ve got to do without an actual list like that.

The next bit is the journalling part. For that, I use an online logging application called Penzu. It’s basically an online diary and in it, I’d list down one by one, the things I do throughout the day. If I’m not in front of a computer, I’d enter “Done” items via my mobile phone.

Why not just cross out items on your “To Do List” as you do them?, you might ask. I log down what I do not for sentimental reasons (“Finally threw out the trash” isn’t exactly a memory worth cherishing). But rather, it’s so I have a record of the things I managed to get done which I can look through and reflect upon.

It forces me to think about how I do things and whether I could do them faster or better, or more efficiently. In other words, it forces me to be more mindful about even the everyday things that I do. And that’s important because if I’m not mindful of the things I do and how I do them, how can I improve?

I don’t assign equal importance to my “To Do List” and online diary because the former is more critical than the latter. I can afford to miss writing down what I managed to achieve. I can’t afford to not update the things I have to do for the day otherwise, very little gets done.

So yes, there are days when my Penzu pages are blank when I neglect to list down what I’ve done for the day. But there are no days when my “To Do List” is not updated. In fact, it gets updated several times a day. As things change around me, I adapt my “To Do List” accordingly. For example, if the kitchen sink starts leaking, I’d have to attend to it, which means there are things on my list that I can’t attend to. That’s fine. I can always push it to another day. And if I can keep track of it, at least I know it’ll be done, sooner or later.

If you’re a bit of a Moleskin fan or just like physical notebooks, then bullet journalling is something you really should try. You’ll see it changes your life and I don’t say that frivolously. You’ll be more efficient and effective in getting things done and you’ll be more mindful and thoughtful of the things you do. But if you’re more of a digital kind of person, try Google Docs and Penzu. It works wonders for me. I’m sure it’d do so for you too.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at


Last man standing

Last man standing
22 January 2017

IN the world of content, we’ve seen industry after industry go the way of digital. The music industry was hit by the digital wave first with CDs replacing records and cassette tapes, then CDs giving way to MP3 downloads. Today, many young people don’t even bother with downloads but simply stream their music on their mobile phones.

We saw pretty much the same thing happen with movies and TV shows. Initially, we had VHS video tapes, which were replaced by VCDs. Those were quickly replaced by the superior DVD, which in turn, was replaced by the even better Blu-ray discs. There was an effort to offer videos via downloads, which never quite caught on, but video streaming is now very popular.

But what happened with books?

E-books have been around for nearly as long as digital music and videos but many people still prefer their books in print format. This is especially so in this part of the world, although books aren’t exactly dead in the Western world either. Yes, Kindle and other forms of e-books are very popular in the US and Europe but so are print books, which refuse to fade away.

People obviously prefer digital music and digital videos because they have so many advantages over their analogue version. But if you look at the features of e-books, you’ll find there are a lot of things to like about them too. In fact, in most respects they’re superior to print books.

Portability: You can carry thousands of e-books in your tablet or phone. It’d be hard to carry more than half a dozen print books in your backpack.

Storage: If you store e-books in your computer hard drive or external hard drive, you’re looking at tens of thousands of e-books that can be kept here. It wouldn’t take many print books to fill up your shelf.

Environmentally friendly: E-books are digital so they exist as data whereas print books involve the felling of trees. If you care about the environment, e-books are definitely a better way to go.

Price: When you compare the prices of a digital and a print version of a book you’ll always find that the digital version is cheaper for obvious reasons. There’s no ink or paper involved. There’s not much storage and distribution costs either (just servers and bandwidth as opposed to warehouses and delivery trucks).

Delivery Time: When you buy an e-book, you get instantaneous access. In contrast, for a print book you have to drive to a bookstore, park, purchase the book and drive back before you can read it. If you mail order the book, it can take days even if it’s a local order and weeks if it’s from overseas (unless you pay for super expensive courier delivery).

Durability: E-books don’t degrade over time. And even if you lose your phone or tablet, you can always re-download e-books that you have already purchased. Print books are made of paper so they can get torn, get wet, get mouldy and get misplaced.

Multimedia Capability: Although not all e-books have multimedia functions, there are e-books out there that have animation, audio, video and interactivity embedded. It takes the reading experience to a whole new level that print books can’t possibly do.

Readability: E-books have the ability for the text size to be changed. So, if you have good eyesight, you might prefer a smaller font but if your parents want to read that same e-book, you might want to adjust the font size for them. You can’t do that with printed books.

Searchability: Not only are e-book titles easy to search for, the text inside each book is also searchable. So, if you’re looking for a particular keyword or phrase inside a book, you just have to type it in the search bar. The print book answer to that would be the index but not all books have indices and they aren’t as easy to use compared to a search bar. In the future, publishers may have to close shop or find a cheaper business model for print books.


With so many clear advantages, why is it that many people still prefer print books? Some people say they like the fact that it’s easier to share a print book. Many e-books are copy protected so you can’t share them, whereas with print books you can, although not en masse (because you’re dealing with a physical object, obviously only one book can be loaned to one friend at any one time).

Others say they like the fact that with print books, you can jot down notes on the margins of the book (it’s worth noting though that you can also make notes on e-books though it’s by typing and not physically jotting).

But the overwhelming reason that’s given for preferring print books has to do with sentimentality. Almost everyone who says they prefer print books say they like the way a print book feels, they like the rustling sound that a page makes when you turn them, they even like the smell of a print book.

They basically like the physical presence of a book. It really has nothing to do with functionality. And because of that, it’s clear that in the long run, e-books will prevail just as digital music and digital videos have done. It’ll just take a longer time as we have to wait for a whole generation of readers who have little sentimental attachment to print books to come of age.

But market forces will be the main reason print books will be overtaken by e-books. Publishers and bookstores around the world are all downsizing. Even if you’re not aware of what’s happening in the book publishing industry you can see bookstores growing smaller and smaller as people aren’t buying books like they used to. The reason is probably information overload. There’s so much content online, they don’t feel the need to buy books anymore.

When this situation becomes too severe, publishers will have to make a tough decision on whether to close shop or to find a cheaper business model. Print is expensive. Digital is less so. It’ll take some time but within a generation or two, print books will become as quaint as vinyl records are today. The specialist collectors will still want them, but for the masses digital will be good enough.

Oon Yeoh is an consultant experience in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at


The value of serendipity

The value of serendipity
15 January 2017

The Internet is such a great resource and tool. Because of it, we literally have all the information we want at our fingertips. Ironically it is narrowing, as opposed to broadening, our horizons as far as content is concerned. And the reason is due to a concept called “The Daily Me”, a term used by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte to describe a virtual daily newspaper customized for an individual's tastes.

Of course the Internet allows for filtration that goes beyond just news. You can also filter for the kind of music or videos or discussion groups that you prefer. The Internet allows for very deep personalization of the content that we consume.

Let’s start with news. You can bookmark your favourite sources of news, be it a blog or news website. That’s a very crude form of filtration. But you can also personalize your Google News feed so that it shows more of things you like to read about. You can even create news alerts based on keywords. On very news-centric social media like Twitter, you can choose to follow specific sources of news and get only those feeds.

For music, you don’t have to rely on the radio anymore and you don’t have to buy albums. Just zero in on the specific tracks you want and buy them from iTunes or stream them on Spotify. For videos, it’s the same thing. You don’t have to rely on TV anymore. Just find the shows you want and either purchase them for download or stream them. You’ll get exactly what you want.

And what’s wrong with that? Isn’t this about giving the consumer what they want? It is, but we all know that being given just what you want isn’t always good for you. A child might want to eat chocolate bars all day long but that’s hardly a healthy diet. And so it is with the content that we consume. Being exposed to things beyond what we like is an important part of becoming a well-rounded person.

Let’s take news for example. Let’s say you are of a certain political persuasion. If all you read are news items from a specific political standpoint, you are going to end up being very narrow-minded and even extremist in your views. It’s fine to have a strong political stance but it should be tempered with exposure to the opposing viewpoint. That doesn’t happen when you filter your newsfeed to serve you only the kind of news and views that you agree with.

The great value of print is that when you browse through a newspaper or magazine, you are literally browsing through the pages. Despite the term “browsing the web”, people don’t really browse online. They click on specific links and skip everything else. You can’t do that with print and that actually broadens your reading exposure. While flipping through the pages, you’ll probably come across unexpected articles that pique your interest. And you end up reading about more things, including things that will pleasantly surprise you.  

Similarly, with music, if you listen to the radio, you’ll come across a wider range of music than you would be if you listened to just a set playlist that you yourself programmed.  And if you listen to talk radio, you’ll be exposed to topics that you didn’t expect or weren’t particularly interested in. Contrast that to if you only download podcasts by a certain personality who espouses a certain kind of view.

When I was growing up, there was no YouTube or Hulu or iFlix and no Astro or cable TV of any kind. So, we were forced to watch whatever was on the two or three channels that were available. This was terrestrial broadcasts we are talking about not demand TV, so it wasn’t possible to fast forward to a particular program. As a result I ended up watching documentaries, comedies, variety shows and TV series that I wasn’t particularly looking out for. I think this was a good thing. Despite the limited choices in programs, I actually ended up watching a wider range of things that I would if I could pick and choose what I wanted to see.

The thing is, there is great value in serendipity – a fancy word for “pleasant surprise”. It’s a very interesting word that was invented by Horace Walpole, and English art historian, in 1754 after he had read a Persian fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip”. In that story, the princes were always making discoveries by chance.

In the age of the Internet, discovering things by chance is minimized and serendipity goes out the window. This minimizes your world view and limits your knowledge of society, culture and the arts. It inhibits you from becoming a well-rounded person. So, what can you do about it? Here are three simple things to avoid “The Daily Me” syndrome of consuming only the things you like and shutting out the rest of the world.

Be aware of your filters
Everybody has their own set of biases but not everybody is conscious of that. It helps to be aware that you have a certain set of preferences and what exactly those preferences are. By being cognizant of your personal biases, it gives you the chance to strive for some semblance of balance in what you consume and become exposed to.

Break out of your comfort zone
In order to grow and evolve as a person, you need to break out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, you’ll stay stagnant and become stale. It pays to occasionally purposely seek out reading materials, music and videos that you might normally not go for. Don’t always go for the same things, even though you enjoy them very much. Sometimes try out new stuff even if it makes you a little bit uncomfortable. 

Go offline
Digital content is great but sometimes you should intentionally unplug and seek out offline sources of content. When you are not in complete control of the playlist of the content you are consuming, you will accidentally come across content that you actually find interesting or useful even though you never expected it to be. It’s by going offline that serendipity can happen.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at


Combating fake news

Combating fake news
8 January 2017

ONE of the big negative trends of 2016 was the preponderance of fake news on the Internet, so much so that many political pundits claim that it had an impact on the US presidential election.

Fake news wouldn’t be much of a problem if people were more discerning about the news they read but recent surveys show that people generally aren’t so. A Stanford Graduate School of Education study released in November revealed a widespread inability among middle school, high school and college students to verify the information they read. The report shows a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the Internet, the authors said.

“Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media, they’re equally perceptive about what they find there,” said Professor Sam Wineburg, lead author of the report. “Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

The assessments reflected key understandings the students should possess, such as being able to find out who wrote a story and whether that source is credible. “In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” the authors wrote.

But it’s not just students who are easily duped. Working adults fare quite badly too when it comes to discerning fake news from real news.

A survey from YouGov and The Economist released in December found that 17 per cent of Hillary Clinton voters and 46 per cent of Donald Trump voters believed elements of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory to be true. (That conspiracy falsely claims a connection between Clinton, a New York pizza restaurant and a paedophile ring).

Sometimes fake news is created as a prank, such as the one last month where a man claimed he was kicked off a Delta Air Lines flight for speaking Arabic. That story quickly went viral on social media and was even picked up by some news organisations. Delta investigated and denied his claims. It was later discovered that the person involved was a YouTube prankster who’d pulled similar stunts in the past.

Other times fake news is the result of rushed or inaccurate reporting such as when the Washington Post ran a story with the explosive headline: “Russian hackers penetrated US electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, US officials say.”

The story claimed that a code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration had been detected within the system of a Vermont utility. “While the Russians didn’t actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter, the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability,” the story said.

This wasn’t exactly what happened, and the utility company found it necessary to issue a clarification: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organisation’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

So the story went from Russian hackers gaining access into the US electrical grid to a single non-grid laptop being infected with malware. If this isn’t a case of fake news, it’s certainly a case of exaggerated or inaccurate news.


So, why is fake news so commonplace these days?

There’s a confluence of reasons involving newsroom competition, short attention spans and social media’s viral nature.

First, let’s look at the source of fake news. Pranksters obviously do it for the kick they get from getting their fake news spread around the world. But the frequency of inaccurate or fake news spread by mainstream media is a function of today’s hyper-competitive news environment where news outlets compete for ever-fickle clicks.

Media companies are supposed to do proper fact checking but doing so takes time and holding on to explosive news means getting scooped by other outlets. So there’s tremendous pressure to release the news as soon as possible. To make things worse, once a single mainstream publication runs with a story, other mainstream publishers will usually go with the story too, often putting their own spin on it without doing their own reporting or even fact-checking. After all, if the Washington Post runs a story, it must be true, right?

Second, let’s look at the disseminators of false news: Us.

Of course few of us knowingly spread false news but our Internet-induced short attention spans have led us to share hot news very quickly without verifying it — or in some cases, without even properly reading the stories — first.

A study published last year by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute found that 59 per cent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. In other words, people are actually sharing news stories based on article headlines alone, without having read the articles themselves.

“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” study co-author Arnaud Legout said in a statement. “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

How does this lead to fake news being spread? Well, if people bother to read past the headlines, they might actually notice if there’s something fishy about a story. But if they just browse the headlines, it’s really hard to make that kind of determination.

To test how widespread this phenomenon is, a satirical news site called the Science Post last June published a nonsensical article consisting of “lorem ipsum” text with the attention-grabbing headline: “Study: 70 per cent of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.”

Nearly 46,000 people actually shared that post! Talk about irony.

Third, the nature of social media networks is such that any piece of information can quickly be shared around the world in a matter of hours. Fake news can worm its way into millions of social media accounts before any rebuttal or correction is made. And even when a piece of news is exposed to be fake, there will be those who never receive such information or might simply choose to ignore it.

These days many people get their news from Facebook and Google and fittingly, both these tech giants have announced efforts to combat fake news. Both have announced that they won’t allow advertising to appear on sites peddling fake news. Google has said it’ll continue to tweak its algorithm to demote non-authoritative information in favour of high quality, credible sources. Facebook, meanwhile, says it’ll start flagging questionable stories with an alert that says: “Disputed by third party fact-checkers”.

We, the readers, can also do our part to help weed out fake news. You might not want to spend too much time fact-checking so here are three things you can do very quickly if you come across eye-catching news that might or might not be true.

Yes, admit it, at one point or another we’ve all been part of that 60 per cent of people described in that Columbia University study who passed on hot news just based on headlines. Instead, we should take the time to actually read a news story before passing it on.

2. CHECK WITH GOOGLE NEWS see if there are multiple sources for that story. If it’s real news, multiple mainstream media sources would surely report on it. All you have to do is type in the keywords into Google News and see if there are many results.

Yes, fact-checking takes too much time and effort. Fortunately, there are several sites that exist to bust fake news for you. These include, and Refer to them when you come across a story that you aren’t sure about.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at