The Timberland Story by Tim Sanders

Timberland Story

A moving and inspirational story from Tim Sanders from his book Saving The World At Work.

Video: The Timberland Story by Tim Sanders
Excerpt from book

The three men in my life

And the three men I admire most…
…They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died. ~ Don McLean, American Pie

Life is hard. Then you die. I always liked the finality of those two sentences. Six words that made sense. But lately, since I lost my dad at 91 and two close friends at 45, I have started to re-think those words.

My father and my friends Pako and Ravi never seemed to show that life was hard. It may have been hard for the people who loved them especially at the end, but it never seemed that life took a toll on their day-to-day living. Life, in fact, seemed “easy” for them.

They seemed to have discovered the one truth that few people acknowledge. Life is transitory.

You cannot wrestle it to the ground and put a choke hold on it and say, “I’ll say when it’s over, dammit!”.

Life passes you by even when you are too busy working, worrying, getting depressed, crying over losses, ranting and worst of all: WHINING.

I don’t remember my dad, Pako or Ravi whining. For whining about your life or lack of it is the ultimate sin. We do life injustice when we moan about our work, our spouses and kids or opposingly our single life, our material wealth or lack of it, our houses, our cars, our health, our relatives ~ ourselves.

It is a waste of time. It drains you of your energy. It tires you and throws you into a vortex of worthlessness.

Here are three people who floated through life without seemingly a care in the world. They lived for today. They had found a nirvana here on earth that most of us whiners may never realize before we die. We pine and pray for a heaven beyond this earth that doesn’t exist; creating our own hell, awaiting our own grim reaper.

I lost my father and a true friend Ravi in the space of 10 days this year. I lost Pako over five years ago.

There is nothing in the world that can prepare anyone for the loss of people who are dear to you. You feel the slice of a cold blade in your heart but nothing gushes out, just emptiness and pain.

I found myself tearing up when I was behind the wheel in the middle of traffic. There was no solace in bed at night. The words of every song on the radio resonated and tugged me deeper into melancholy.

I would get flashes ~ like tiny movies playing in my mind’s eye, memories that were so vivid, I could clearly hear their voices, see their smiles, feel their presence.

My father was rushed to hospital on Oct 22 after what was believed to be a stroke.

That night, I spent a night by his bedside. They had tied his arms to the bed rails so that he would not pull against the tubes in his arms. My dad was still able to talk but he no longer could control his bowels and had to suffer the indignity of wearing adult diapers and a catheter.

His health had deteriorated over the last years of his life as a result of the hard drinking and heavy smoking, both of which he had quit for over a decade. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, causing his breathing to be laboured. He would stay awake all night long, and need reassurance from my mother and eldest sister, who bless their hearts, shouldered the brunt of his constant care.

My paternal grandfather had died in a hospital, apparently, the family story goes, from being given the wrong medication. As a result, my father lived with a real fear of hospitals ever since. When he was persuaded to go, because his symptoms had become so severe, he would often make a “sudden recovery” in front of the attending physician just to get out of a night’s stay there.


My dad was a photolithographer. I never understood what that meant except that it had something to do with maps and dad worked for the government at the Survey Department from his late teenage years until he retired.

When asked by my teachers what my father’s occupation was, I was so proud that at the age 8 or 9, to be able pronounce it, spell it and then differentiate it from a photographer, when the teacher mistakenly tried to correct me. “No, he works on maps at the Survey Department,” I would say adamantly, a fact I knew, because on numerous occasions he took me to the office where I would play for hours near his “enormous” work table.

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say ~ Mike & The Mechanics, Living Years

That night, my father awoke repeatedly. He was disoriented and still thought he was at home, shouting out the names “Jane! Jane!” (my mum) and  “Irene! Irene!” (my sister) to an open ward of patients. I tried to calm him and say,”Dad you are in hospital,” but it didn’t seem to register.

He didn’t seem like the typical stroke victim either, with paralysis on one side, or slurred speech. I held his hand and he gripped me back – sometimes so tightly it hurt.

This reassured me more, I believe, than it did him. My dad was never the cuddly type. I don’t remember being hugged by him. As I grew older, and when I reached over to hug him during my visits, he would always proffer his hand instead and say, “Bird flu, bird flu”, to avoid the embrace.

Dad adhered to the stiff-upper-lip resoluteness of his Queen’s English upbringing and was a bit of an anglophile, despite being of Ceylonese descent, and having spent only a few short years in Britain.

But dad was such a gregarious person after a little inebriation. He used to use the word “incorrigible” on others, but I now realize it applied to him best – but in a good way, there was a rascally streak in him that we, his children, may have all inherited.

Dad used to sing at all our family gatherings, along with his two younger brothers the late Uncle Douglas and sole surviving male Kanagasabai and incredibly witty Uncle Cyril. They were a riot with their bawdy and teasing songs – the lyrics of which I remember only in snatches “Around the corner and under the tree, a Bengoli maiden made love to me…” and “If I were a bachelor boy and if I were to marry…”

He always had an appreciation for the old standards by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and the ilk and I remember he also had an odd penchant for Boney M’s Christmas Songs which he would play on endless repeats during the season.

He would often illustrate to anyone who would listen how the music of the present day has devolved by suddenly singing out loud “Who let the dogs out….woof, woof, woof, woof,” barking as we rolled in laughter.

It is late now, most of the patients in the ward are asleep. Dad is gently tapping on my hand with his fingers. There is a machine in the distance going off at regular intervals – theet, theet, theet. Dad’s tapping falls into exact sync with the beeping machine! I imagine that somewhere in his mind music is playing. And he is happy.

At one point in the middle of what I think is sleep, my father suddenly says: “What floor are you on?”

I am caught by surprise, in mid-sleep myself. I know we had told him we had moved to our own apartment, after many long years in rented terrace houses, but he had yet to visit.

“10th floor,” I replied to which the retort came quickly back: “Too high! Too high!” and then he faded off to sleep again.

Later in his hospital stay, my sister related how my father had asked for the wheel chair for the sole purpose of going to the 10th floor. He was on the 9th floor, the top-most floor in Selayang Hospital, so did he mean he wanted to finally come visit or was he ready to go to his maker?

After a fitful night, my mum and eldest sister returned the next morning to the hospital ward to relieve me. I returned home to try to catch up on much needed sleep.

Sometime mid-day on Oct 23rd, I awoke suddenly and checked my phone. There were 4 missed calls. But they were not from my sister but from a friend who was on holiday from Australia.

When I reached him he was in tears. I was told a close mutual friend of ours Ravi, who we called by his petname, Baby, was dead at 45 years old.

It was a shock. Ravi had been to my apartment for his first time only days before and gave his blessing. Now he was gone.


Ravi was the complete opposite of my dad by the fact that he hugged everyone. But Ravi shared my dad’s warmth, friendliness and generosity to anyone, even strangers he met for the first time.

I got to know Ravi after he showed up at the uni his elder brother, Ragu and I were in. Even though he was from a different uni he acted like a freshie asking – mostly women – to be ragged. The ladies adored him.

But I really got to know him when he met a nasty accident and ended up bed-ridden for months in hospital. I dropped by each morning to cheer him up ~ but turns out the happiest guy in hospital was Ravi. He had patients around his bed playing cards or just laughing and sharing jokes, forgetting the dreariness of being cooped up in a hospital ward. Despite his foot looking black and blue and ripe for an amputation, Ravi never showed an iota of concern ~ even though I guessed he must have been hurting inside.

I would sometimes bring him breakfast, before heading off to the drudgery of work, and it turned out Ravi always cheered me up, listening to my whining about my job, instead of me offering a sympathetic ear to his pain.

In the end, Ravi lost half his foot, but it never showed in the fullness of the man he was for the next two decades of his life.

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share

And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother ~ by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell, popularized by Neil Diamond and the Hollies, He Ain’t Heavy

The party never really started until Ravi showed up. And he always made an effort to show up when I asked him to. He always showed he cared. He hugged me like a lover parting for the last time. Or a friend, perhaps, who knew his time was short and made every effort to acknowledge our closeness.

He called me every year just on the stroke of midnight, the first minute of Jan 22, to wish me happy birthday. I was told I was not the only one accorded the privilege of a Ravi birthday call. He must have made a lot of calls in his life. He had many friends who would’ve filled an entire calendar year. I guess it was part of Ravi’s style to remind us all to be thankful of every year we lived.

My friend and I are driving to his apartment after receiving the shocking news. I get lost trying to recall the route, making instinctive rights and lefts. He is on the phone trying to get directions when I overhear him say the name of a hospital. I turn to my right, and there is the exact hospital he mentions!

We drive to the entrance, park and head to the mortuary. We know some unexplained intervention has brought us here early to greet the body of our friend Ravi.

A police truck pulls up shortly after. Ravi is in a black body bag. The police drag his body off the truck and unceremoniously dump it onto a gurney like they were dragging a sack of rice.

Inside, my friend and I are called in and the black bag is unzipped. Ravi is lying there, in familiar shorts and sleeveless t-shirt, and all our doubts of his mortality are confirmed. We both break down. I cry his name out loud, as if to will him back.

His hands are drawn criss-cross on his chest. There is red ash on his on forehead. He looked as peaceful as a saint, almost a hint of a smile on his lips. I knew then that he was gone.


I met my friend Pako when I thought he would make a good interview subject for a news story. I was in Tioman Island covering the sailing regatta for a magazine and noticed he was the only Egyptian in the field.

Pako was tanned and tall and physically the person you would expect to be a sportsman. But he surprised me by also being articulate and erudite and proceeded to enlighten me on the state of humanity and the environment.

Pako was part Egyptian and Austrian and showed the good looks of a person of mixed parentage. When I met him he was the dive instructor of the resort, but he also seemed to have a chip on his shoulder of not matching the doctorates that both his father and grandfather held.

He had applied to all the Commonwealth countries to do his PhD in English, and only Malaysia replied. He signed on to do his doctorate in history in University Malaya, then asked the taxi driver where the best dive spot in Malaysia was and was told it was Tioman island.

He easily secured a job as a dive guide, given his experience, when he arrived at the resort.

A few months later, after the regatta I met Pako in the city. We struck up a friendship that lasted till the day he left us.

Pako taught me that life was too short to be bemoaning our fate. He was constantly curious, his eyes lighted up like a child at discovering new things and he always showed a hunger for new knowledge, questioning dogmas and iron-clad “truths” ~ debates that took us late into the night, after many a beer.

Pako was a physical man who earned his living by showing hundreds, including us, the wonders and beauty of life from where we came from ~ the depths of the oceans ~ but he was cerebral and constantly thinking of new ideas on land ~ ideas he promised to turn into a book.

In the end, he did write a book, with the help of a friend, on his beloved Tioman, the island he called home for most his life in Malaysia.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend?
People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you.
Well they’ll take your soul if you let them.
Oh yeah, but don’t you let them.
You just call out my name and you know wherever I am
I’ll come running to see you again ~ Carole King, popularized by James Taylor, You’ve Got A Friend

Pako collapsed one day back in Egypt. His wife, Susanne, told us it was brain cancer. He survived the first bout through an operation and therapy and we got to see him back again in Malaysia and shared some great meals and laughter together.

I never forgave myself for not visiting him in his native land. He spoke so often of wanting to show me his Egypt ~ through his eyes. “I am from the desert, we sleep under the stars!” he said, the first time he was offered the couch of the living room, much to our amusement.

Like my dad and Ravi, Pako never showed anyone that life was hard. Life dealt them some hard blows. But they seemed to roll with the punches and get on with it. There was too little time to bicker and moan and whine.

Few of us understand that truth. We spend too much time on trivialities, obsessing about little things, being anal and inflexible in our ways.

Yes, life needs constants and some consistency, but life also teaches us to enjoy the ride and go with the flow.

The three men in my life taught me life isn’t hard. Life is actually easy. Or, at least, they made it look easy.

Laugh, be curious and be generous with your time with others. And be a little bit crazy. It may be the only antidote you have against the insanity of this world.

Life isn’t hard. Take it easy. Then you live. Really live. And then you die.

Take it easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels
drive you crazy
Lighten up while you still can
don’t even try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
and take it easy ~ The Eagles, Take it Easy

“Last night, the web saved my life”

Eight years ago, my web exploits took an interesting turn. I was informed that a website I helped design had saved a life.

It was the kind of news that profoundly focuses your life and makes you take stock.  All those weary, long, late nights of  trial-and-error hand-coding of  HTML pages, testing and re-testing for browser compatibility and griping about the workarounds for Internet Explorer pixel quirks just floated away.

help key

It was as if the Great Documenter had pulled out the file of My Entire Life and stamped it VALID in big, red letters.

But more on my own tale later. The burning question you may be asking is how could a mere website possibly save anyone’s life?

Bev Holzrichter received her own validation of the web’s value  in 2005.

The 56-year-old horse breeder was helping her mare Sierra give birth at KB Hilltop Stables in  Charlotte, Iowa. She was alone and her husband wasn’t due back for three days.

Just after the delivery, another mare named Nifty tried to enter the barn and Sierra protectively lashed out kicking Bev  three times, knocking her to the floor of the barn.

The entire incident, however, did not go unnoticed. Bev had installed webcams in the barn in 2000 and the live video feed was being streamed to hundreds of viewers who loved to watch the foaling  season online.

Passive viewers turned active rescuers as soon as they saw Bev fall.  A friend Bev knew through her website, Wendi Wiener in California, got on the chat room and message board attached to the site and told people in Iowa to call 911.

According to CNN,  concerned viewers  as far away as Germany, the UK and France had phoned the Charlotte Rescue Squad. “When the emergency services arrived 45 minutes later, they were very confused about why they had received calls from all over the world about me,” related Bev.

She was quoted as saying:  “I don’t know what would have happened if it wasn’t for the webcam. I damaged my knee and my leg very badly. My temperature had dropped and I was in body shock by the time help arrived.

“The Internet is my hero. We hear so many bad news stories about the Internet and about webcams but this has such a happy ending. Those people watching are the ones who helped me. If it wasn’t for the technology of the webcam, I’m not sure when I would have been found or what would have happened to me.”

Aid worker Dan Woolley found himself in a similar predicament under the rubble of the recent Haiti quake.

Alone in the darkness with blood streaming from his head and leg, Dan remembered he had an app for that.

“I had an app that had pre-downloaded all this information about treating wounds. So I looked up excessive bleeding and I looked up compound fracture,” he told CNN.

The application on his iPhone is filled with information about first aid and CPR from the American Heart Association. “So I knew I wasn’t making mistakes. That gave me confidence to treat my wounds properly.”

A father of two boys, Dan used his shirt to bandage his leg,  tied his belt around the wound and firmly pressed a sock  to his head to stop the bleeding. Concerned he might be in shock, Dan said the app warned him not to fall sleep. So he set his phone alarm to go off every 20 minutes.

Dan turned the alarm off once the battery was down to 20 percent. By then, he had trained his body not to sleep for long periods, drifting off only to wake up within minutes.

After more than 60 hours, Dan was pulled from the under ruins of the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince. The iPhone and the app he downloaded, he said “was like a high-tech version of a Swiss Army knife that enabled me to treat my own injuries, track time, stay awake and stay alive.”

Watch the video of Dan relating the incident to CNN.

Actress Demi Moore and husband Ashton Kutcher are the celebrated Twitter couple of the web. In April 2009, Demi received a tweet from a woman named sandieguy: “I’m just wondering if anyone cares that I’m gonna kill myself now.”

Then a short while later: “Getting a knife, a big one that is sharp. Going to cut my arm down the whole arm so it doesn’t waste time.”

Demi replied: “Hope you are joking,” sharing the scenario with her then nearly 400,000 followers.Some of her followers then contacted the authorities.

As San Jose Police Sgt. Ronnie Lopez told E! News:  “At 4:37 this morning, the San Jose Police Department received a call from a citizen requesting that we check on the welfare of a 41-year-old female. The caller indicated that she had been sending out messages on Twitter. Officers were sent to the address. There were no injuries but officers determined that the woman fit the criteria to be brought in for psychiatric evaluation, which she is currently undergoing.”

An hour later,  Demi tweeted: “Everyone I was very torn about responding or retweeting that woman’s post but felt uncomfortable just letting it go.”  She also posted: “Thanks everyone for reaching out to the San Jose PD I am told they are aware and no need to call anymore. I do not know this woman.”

A few hours later, the celebrity tweeted a confirmation of the events’ validity. “It is my understanding that the situation was not a joke and that through the collective efforts here, action was taken to provide help.”

Husband Asthon chimed in: “wifey reported a suicide attempt based on a at reply tweet she got and saved someones life. the woman is in the hospital now.”

That story was not too dissimilar to my own.

Ten years ago, I had helped activist Ivy Josiah and her team design and develop a website for the Women’s Aid Organisation.  I never met the team physically but trained two enthusiastic advocates for the organisation remotely via email and Yahoo Messenger.

As part of the design, we placed the WAO’s email and phone number on every page of the website. After the hand-off, WAO continued to have dedicated personnel to keep the site updated.

In 2002,  as Ivy later related to me, a distraught mother in Damansara had hung up on her son in the UK. Concerned, the son trawled the Internet to find some organisation to help him. He reached the WAO website and called the organisation’s hotline.

That led to a nearby WAO rep visiting the home of the mother and finding her on the floor after ingesting some pills. The WAO rep then counselled her and took her to the nearest clinic, as reported by P Angelina in The Star.

saving a life

I rarely spoke of my role in this incident to anyone for years. It was the kind of story that you hold dear to your heart and didn’t require repeating, except to your closest of friends.

In the last year or so, as a digital media advocate, I felt a need to share this story publicly.  With all the tech-bashing on Facebook and other social networks, it was necessary to point out that the web is not all that bad.

It is in fact a profound agent of change and we are all in it shaping that change with every tweet,  status update, blog post, comment, uploaded photo or video.

To lay blame on the web for our own human failures is to trivialize this greatest of all human resources.

What we do online today matters. It may affect us tomorrow in ways we may never dream of.

The web may even, one day, save your life.

10 things to do this decade

The noughties are over and the tens are here. Time to get serious about all the things you have been putting off for the longest time.

Plan to deliver some personal goals by 2020 and work out that plan. Make this decade your best ever.

Here are 10 suggestions:

View from atop Otago, New Zealand

1. Go to an exotic destination
Vacations shouldn’t just be about lying around on a deck chair by the hotel pool, sipping margaritas and reading Grisham. Get out, go on a sweaty trek, immerse yourself in a local cultural event, learn something new and strike up random conversations with the locals.

In that gloomy period post 9/11, we went to New Zealand on November 2001 on a whim — and with little planning. Our kids were aged two and four and we spent six weeks that turned out the best family holiday of the last decade.

My recommendation: Choose a place far away and quite removed from anything you’ve experienced before ie. Angkor Wat, Mulu, Halong Bay, Machu Picchu, the Iguazu Falls, the Paos Volcano come to mind.

On a glacier in South Island, New Zealand. First taste of snow.

2. Take up a recreation sport:
I’m no gymrat and waking up at 5am to pay someone to boss you around at an urban bootcamp sounds perverse.

I took up scuba-diving on the persuasion of a great, late friend Pako, an Egyptian-Austrian, who was a bigger-than-life character until his premature passing from brain cancer. My virgin dives were off Tioman Island with instructor Jasper, and buddy Vijay.

In our first ever dive, we surprised a turtle with our flailings underwater, avoiding spiky sea urchins and learned about the dangers of the stonefish, scorpion fish and moray eel. Jasper, and later Pako and Susanne opened my eyes to the wonders of the living coral reef — a world so peaceful and lush with colours.

Moray eel, off Kampung Tekek, Tioman by kinObe / CC BY 2.0

Once I got past the equipment, and figured my buoyancy, dives in the warm waters off the coasts of Malaysia were a solace and comfort, away from the madness, where the only sounds you hear are of your own breathing.

Our best dive was a night dive, off Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand. Descending into a inky darkness sounds scary, but it’s just as relaxing, although you are more focused with the two torches you need to carry (one as a backup strapped to your wrist) .

At one point, close to the moon-drenched surface, our dive master, made us switch off our torches and in the darkness he agitated the water by swinging his arms and legs. The bioluminiscent plankton lit up all around us. He then grabbed our arms and partnered us off to do underwater waltzes among the “stars”. It was magical and unforgettable.

Lately, my friends Joe and Gary have gotten into tour and off-road bicycling. I’ve liked the wind and freedom on being on a non-polluting bicycle as a young child and once circumnavigated Peninsular Malaysia with two friends. But the prospects of riding over rough terrain on a narrow seat for long periods sounds particularly painful on the posterior.

Other recreation sports worth thinking about this decade: skydiving, base-jumping, rock-climbing, wind-surfing, mountain-climbing, archery, kickboxing and, maybe, running a marathon.

3. Learn to sing, dance, play:
I am convinced I am tone deaf, although I enjoy live music and dancing. The Susan Boyle phenomenon, Michael Jackson’s posthumous revival, the Idol series, So You Think You Can Dance? and celebrity dance-offs have touched all our inner musical longings.

Did you fail to turn into the musical prodigy your mother wanted you to be by sending you to that intense piano teacher who rapped your knuckles with a steel ruler? Now’s your revenge. Buy that piano, play only what you like and learn in your own time. Why? Because you can afford it and you always liked the music anyway, not the regimented lessons. Challenge yourself by signing up for a public performance, among friends of course, in six months.

Things to do to exercise your musical muscle this decade: learn to dance the salsa (Darlene, my salsa-teaching niece would like to hear this), hip-hop (my 40-something pal took this up in Vietnam recently), ballroom (Tim Ferriss is inspiring) or play the saxophone, guitar, harmonica or tabla, or take up vocal lessons and nail that slow-burn jazz number you always wanted to.

4. Learn a craft:
I fell into photography on the insistence of my boss at a stint at a travel magazine. Learning to shoot pics for my own stories fleshed out my understanding of the story-telling craft.

I used a non-digital Canon EOS SLR which is perhaps the easiest Autofocus/Manual camera to quickly pick up picture-taking skills back then. I shot several covers for the magazine and many other touristy pics and went on to take many memorable photos for family and friends — mostly at weddings, parties and holiday trips.

It’s amazing to see the easy and fluid sharing of digital photos and videos via Facebook, Picasa, Flickr and YouTube. I keep reading the reviews and hope to get back into the stills craft again with the right camera.

Other possibilities: Video-filming, fine-dine cooking, cake-baking, beer-brewing, wine-making, batik painting or any other art, pottery and knitting.

5. Go green:
Can we save the environment in the next decade or will things only get worse? I’ve been inspired listening to Matthias Gelber, Shai Agassi and of course, Al Gore.

I confess, I struggle to cure myself of the addiction to fossil fuels and plastic. Driving and shopping bags are anti-green sins which are hard to give up. I hope to do better in this carbon-credit decade.

6. Grow something:
City-living boxes one into concrete and air-conditioning all day long. We move to an apartment this year, and forsake our closeness to the land, further devolving into the cliched urban settings — all high-living pretense and thin-walled wretchedness.

Suggested ideas: If you have a patch of grass in the backyard try growing your own chillies or tomatoes, invest in an organic farm co-op, take part in some tree-planting activities or start paying more loving attention to your potted plants.

7. Have a kid:
I learnt and continue to learn more about life through my children than my entire pre-children adult life. Unlike the Brangelinas, a pair — a whiny boy and a precocious girl — is enough for us, and we are grateful for their “normality”.

We still have friends sans kids who just don’t get it. Having children is life-changing. And you need to have them to know what that statement really means.

Parenting 101 begins at home. You are both student and lecturer and have to make up the lessons on your own. There is nothing you can ever learn from books to know what it means to change a particularly nasty diaper, or suck the phlegmy stuff from an infant’s nose, or stay up all night with a sick, whimpering child whose fever hasn’t broken. It reaches deep inside and rips you at the core.

Children are true joys and joy-killers, therein lies the contradiction. You don’t need kids to know who you are, but may need the parenting experience to know who you were, and want to be.

8. Trace your family tree:
What could be more fun than finding the amazing universality of how we all came to be? Awhile back, my handyman who came to fix a hot shower, started chatting about his hobby — tracing four Eurasian family trees as far back as he could. The quest was to connect his family to Martina Rozells and Captain Francis Light, the founder of then British colony, Penang.

He was doing it completely by hand and relying on old memories, cataloguing deaths in newspaper obituaries and attending funerals. That led to us to helping him out via the power of computing and the Internet. We got him a PC and a genealogy software called Brother’s Keeper and soon he was off and running, expanding the list into the thousands rapidly through online contacts. Later, we helped post parts of the tree on the net and he soon found a connection between his family tree and ours through a marital branch.

Evolution says we are all connected, somewhere along the lines — we’re a planet of cousins. The concept of Facebook “friending” has accelerated that to a new level. I can imagine you could spend an entire decade having fun with this.

9. Get more social online:
I cringed when a friend in Singapore requested I join Plaxo, a social network that opened his entire friend network to me — photos, personal updates and all. There was something voyeuristic about peeking into these strangers’ lives without consent. I got off it promptly.

Facebook changed all that. It offered a means to hide things and had privacy settings that limited the extent with which I wanted to share — although even that boundary is blurring daily. Since joining Facebook, and promoting it to clients, I’ve begun to understand its power.

Social and mobile networks will be the means we all connect in this decade. We are more likely to know each other via the augmented realities of avatars and online personalities that come through in status updates, photos and videos we upload, games we play and Google Wave-like apps we share, rather than through a formal face-to-face. That’s actually exhilarating and we should see this as an opportunity, not a threat.

Find old classmates and neighbourhood friends online. Connect with relatives and friend’s friends from afar. Interact with the inspiring people you read about — they’re all online.

Being social online is a skill that can only be honed by being online. If you want to fish, you need to go where the fish are.

10. Teach
I am a sucker for what my friend Joe describes as the “aha” moment. Benjamin Zander calls it “shining eyes”. There is nothing more satisfying than guiding a person to reach a point where an understanding dawns on the him/her. Something you didn’t know before, suddenly becomes as a clear as day: “Ohhhh, now I get it!”

Teaching, training, coaching and consulting has helped me become a better person. I would challenge anyone who says he knows everything about a particular subject to teach it. It is only then — when you need to organize your thoughts and present it in a structured manner, or provide the guiding posts that gets a person from point A to point B, that you become truly knowledgeable. You teach in order to know.

Knowing doesn’t make you an expert — guruness is over-rated — but it does put you on the right side of the equation in contributing to life on this planet.

An old geography teacher once told me, she never visited most of the places she taught about. But that never made her feel guilty or wrong. You don’t need to truly know what you teach, you only need to provide the framework for change to occur. As the saying goes – a good teacher is like a candle, consuming itself to light the way for others.

Links worth exploring:
1. 100 things to do before you die
2. The 10 most incredible things to do before you die
3. 50 things to do before you die

Great speech: Adrian Tan on Life and How To Survive It

This convo speech by Adrian Tan, a Singapore lawyer, is becoming viral online. Reposted here as a record of what makes a great speech.

Life and How to Survive It

I must say thank you to the faculty and staff of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information for inviting me to give your convocation address. It’s a wonderful honour and a privilege for me to speak here for ten minutes without fear of contradiction, defamation or retaliation. I say this as a Singaporean and more so as a husband.

My wife is a wonderful person and perfect in every way except one. She is the editor of a magazine. She corrects people for a living. She has honed her expert skills over a quarter of a century, mostly by practising at home during conversations between her and me.

On the other hand, I am a litigator. Essentially, I spend my day telling people how wrong they are. I make my living being disagreeable.

Nevertheless, there is perfect harmony in our matrimonial home. That is because when an editor and a litigator have an argument, the one who triumphs is always the wife.

And so I want to start by giving one piece of advice to the men: when you’ve already won her heart, you don’t need to win every argument.

Marriage is considered one milestone of life. Some of you may already be married. Some of you may never be married. Some of you will be married. Some of you will enjoy the experience so much, you will be married many, many times. Good for you.

The next big milestone in your life is today: your graduation. The end of education. You’re done learning.

You’ve probably been told the big lie that “Learning is a lifelong process” and that therefore you will continue studying and taking masters’ degrees and doctorates and professorships and so on. You know the sort of people who tell you that? Teachers. Don’t you think there is some measure of conflict of interest? They are in the business of learning, after all. Where would they be without you? They need you to be repeat customers.

The good news is that they’re wrong.

The bad news is that you don’t need further education because your entire life is over. It is gone. That may come as a shock to some of you. You’re in your teens or early twenties. People may tell you that you will live to be 70, 80, 90 years old. That is your life expectancy.

I love that term: life expectancy. We all understand the term to mean
the average life span of a group of people. But I’m here to talk about a bigger idea, which is what you expect from your life.

You may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino. It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There’s very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup. Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and
restful nap.

Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom.

So here you are, in your twenties, thinking that you’ll have another 40 years to go. Four decades in which to live long and prosper.

Bad news. Read the papers. There are people dropping dead when they’re 50, 40, 30 years old. Or quite possibly just after finishing their convocation. They would be very disappointed that they didn’t meet their life expectancy.

I’m here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy.

After all, it’s calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.

Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.

That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.

If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don’t need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.

What you should prepare for is mess. Life’s a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it. Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it. Good and bad things happen to you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Your degree is a poor armour against fate.

Don’t expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today. At this point in time, you have grown as tall as you will ever be, you are physically the fittest you will ever be in your entire life and you are probably looking the best that you will ever look. This is as good as it gets. It is all downhill from here. Or up. No one knows.

What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.

Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free.

The most important is this: do not work.

Work is anything that you are compelled to do. By its very nature, it is undesirable.

Work kills. The Japanese have a term “Karoshi”, which means death from overwork. That’s the most dramatic form of how work can kill. But it can also kill you in more subtle ways. If you work, then day by day, bit by bit, your soul is chipped away, disintegrating until there’s nothing left. A rock has been ground into sand and dust.

There’s a common misconception that work is necessary. You will meet people working at miserable jobs. They tell you they are “making a living”. No, they’re not. They’re dying, frittering away their fast-extinguishing lives doing things which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, harmful.

People will tell you that work ennobles you, that work lends you a certain dignity. Work makes you free. The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. Utter nonsense.

Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder sliver of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.

Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again. You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself.

I like arguing, and I love language. So, I became a litigator. I enjoy it and I would do it for free. If I didn’t do that, I would’ve been in some other type of work that still involved writing fiction – probably a sports journalist.

So what should you do? You will find your own niche. I don’t imagine you will need to look very hard. By this time in your life, you will have a very good idea of what you will want to do. In fact, I’ll go further and say the ideal situation would be that you will not be able to stop yourself pursuing your passions. By this time you should know what your obsessions are. If you enjoy showing off your knowledge and feeling superior, you might become a teacher.

Find that pursuit that will energise you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. If you don’t, you are working.

Most of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth.

I’m not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth. Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is also great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.

In order to be wary of the truth, you must first know it. That requires great frankness to yourself. Never fool the person in the mirror.

I have told you that your life is over, that you should not work, and that you should avoid telling the truth. I now say this to you: be hated.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you know anyone who hates you? Yet every great figure who has contributed to the human race has been hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many.

That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.

One does not have to be evil to be hated. In fact, it’s often the case that one is hated precisely because one is trying to do right by one’s own convictions. It is far too easy to be liked, one merely has to be accommodating and hold no strong convictions. Then one will gravitate towards the centre and settle into the average. That cannot be your role. There are a great many bad people in the world, and if you are not offending them, you must be bad yourself. Popularity is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong.

The other side of the coin is this: fall in love.

I didn’t say “be loved”. That requires too much compromise. If one changes one’s looks, personality and values, one can be loved by anyone.

Rather, I exhort you to love another human being. It may seem odd for me to tell you this. You may expect it to happen naturally, without deliberation. That is false. Modern society is anti-love. We’ve taken a microscope to everyone to bring out their flaws and shortcomings. It far easier to find a reason not to love someone, than otherwise. Rejection requires only one reason. Love requires complete acceptance. It is hard work – the only kind of work that I find palatable.

Loving someone has great benefits. There is admiration, learning, attraction and something which, for the want of a better word, we call happiness. In loving someone, we become inspired to better ourselves in every way. We learn the truth worthlessness of material things. We celebrate being human. Loving is good for the soul.

Loving someone is therefore very important, and it is also important to choose the right person. Despite popular culture, love doesn’t happen by chance, at first sight, across a crowded dance floor. It grows slowly, sinking roots first before branching and blossoming. It is not a silly weed, but a mighty tree that weathers every storm.

You will find, that when you have someone to love, that the face is less important than the brain, and the body is less important than the heart. You will also find that it is no great tragedy if your love is not reciprocated. You are not doing it to be loved back. Its value is to inspire you.

Finally, you will find that there is no half-measure when it comes to loving someone. You either don’t, or you do with every cell in your body, completely and utterly, without reservation or apology. It consumes you, and you are reborn, all the better for it.

Don’t work. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.

You’re going to have a busy life. Thank goodness there’s no life expectancy.

“Last lecture” Professor Randy Pausch dies

From LA Times:

Randy Pausch, a terminally ill professor whose farewell lecture at Carnegie Mellon University became an Internet phenomenon and best-selling book that turned him into a symbol for living and dying well, died Friday at age 47.

Pausch, who was a computer science professor and virtual-reality pioneer, died at his home in Chesapeake, Va., of complications from pancreatic cancer, officials at the Pittsburgh university announced.

When Pausch agreed to give a theoretical “last lecture,” he was participating in a long-standing academic tradition. Except a month before giving it, Pausch received the diagnosis that would heighten the poignancy of his address.

Originally delivered in September to about 400 students and colleagues, his message about how to make the most of life has been viewed by millions on the Internet. Pausch expanded it into his book, “The Last Lecture,” released in April.

Yet Pausch insisted that the words were designed for an audience of three: his children, then 5, 2 and 1. “I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children,” he wrote in his book.

Last autumn, he moved his family to southeastern Virginia so that Jai, his wife of eight years, could be near relatives. He tried to “build memories” with his children, taking his oldest, Dylan, to ride a dolphin and introducing his son Logan to Mickey Mouse at Disney World.

For his final Halloween, his family — including his youngest, daughter Chloe — went as the Incredibles, personifying his end-of-life mantra: We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

MORE from NY Times.

LINKS: Last lecture video.
Last lecture on YouTube.
Last lecture on Google Video

41-year-old makes US Olympic swim team

Time out for some sports news.

They say, after you turn 40, it’s downhill all the way. But not for some swimmers, apparently. Dara Torres, 41, competing with swimmers half her age, triumphed in the 100m freestyle Olympic trials qualifying her for the US team. And she’s not done yet. Dara hopes to qualify for the 50m event as well, in which she has the best times going in.

Michael Phelps, Aaron Peirsol and Natalie Coughlin are this year’s superstars but Dara Torres is the story.

According to, this is Dara’s second comeback. She’s competed in four previous Olympics, her first in Los Angeles in 1984. In 2000, after a seven-year hiatus, she was the most decorated female athlete with five medals. Then came another seven-year retirement, in which she had a baby, Tessa, now two.

“When this started, people were saying I was their inspiration,” she said. “But I think it’s done a complete 180-degree turn. I have so many people coming up to me and telling me about their stories. I feel like I’m getting inspiration.”

She calls age “just a number,” but while pointing out that her first Olympic trials was 24 years ago, she stopped and repeated the number, as if it couldn’t be real.

If she qualifies for Beijing, she will become the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympics, despite sitting out the 1996 and 2004 Games.

Her comeback is so improbable that she knew some would have suspicions, so she went to US Anti-Doping Agency officials and volunteered for extra-stringent testing.

“I said, ‘Look, I want to be an open book. Because I want people to know that I’m doing this right. That I am 41 years old and I’m clean and I want a clean sport. I swam against swimmers who were dirty my whole life.’ ”

Dara’s secret, apparently, besides her incredibly competitive spirit, is her stretching routines. Makes one hurt just watching her.

Tim Russert dies

One of the best interviewers on TV Tim Russert has passed on.

Sad to see a journalist in his prime go so suddenly.


Arthur C Clarke dies

From the LA Times:

Arthur C. Clarke, who peered into the heavens with a homemade telescope as a boy and grew up to become a visionary titan of science-fiction writing and collaborated with director Stanley Kubrick on the landmark film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” has died. He was 90.

The knighted British-born writer died early Wednesday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where he had made his home for decades, after experiencing a cardio-respiratory attack, his secretary, Rohan De Silva, told Reuters.

Clarke wrote scores of fiction and nonfiction books (some in collaboration) and more than 100 short stories — as well as hundreds of articles and essays. Among his best-known science-fiction novels are “Childhood’s End,” “Rendezvous With Rama,” “Imperial Earth” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“Nobody has done more in the way of enlightened prediction,” science-fiction author Isaac Asimov once wrote.

“I’d say he was the major hard science-fiction writer — that is, the writer of science fiction that is scientifically scrupulous — in the second half of the 20th century,” UC Irvine physics professor Gregory Benford, an award-winning science-fiction author who collaborated with Clarke on the 1990 science-fiction novel “Beyond the Fall of Night,” told The Times in 2005.

George Slusser, author of the 1978 book “The Space Odysseys of Arthur C. Clarke” and curator emeritus of UC Riverside’s Eaton Collection — the world’s largest publicly accessible collection of science fiction, fantasy, horror and utopian fiction — ranks Clarke as one of the three greatest science-fiction writers of all time.

“Clarke, along with Asimov and [Robert A.] Heinlein, is unique in that his human dramas are determined by advances in science and technology,” Slusser, a professor of comparative literature, said in 2005. “He places his characters in a near future where science has changed the way we live and the possibilities for adventure.

“Clarke incarnates the essence of [science fiction], which is to blend two otherwise opposite activities into a single story, that of the advancement of mankind.”

His remarkable record of foreseeing future technologies led him to be known as “the godfather of the telecommunications satellite.”

A radar pioneer in the Royal Air Force during World War II, Clarke wrote a 1945 article in Wireless World magazine in which he outlined a worldwide communications network based on fixed satellites orbiting Earth at an altitude of 22,300 miles — an orbital area now often referred to as the Clarke Orbit.

Clarke’s seminal article, for which he received $40, was published two decades before Syncom II became the world’s first communications satellite put into geosynchronous orbit in 1963.


Jill Bolte Taylor: Brain scientist describes her stroke

Brain scientist and stroke victim Jill Bolte Taylor describes the profound connectedness she felt when she survived a brain haemorrhage.

Download MP4, download via iTunes.

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