Soundclash!


Tonight, as well as well the nightly concert in the square beneath our flat, there was a procession around the Temple Of Buddha’s Tooth. That meant lots of jangling bells, three lions and a dragon, the last of these accessorized with neon lights, all making a huge din that almost drowned out the noise from the stage. There was a crowd of onlookers, all appearing a bit confused about whether to look to the stage, or to maintain eye contact with dancing lions. If only the line dancers had turned up and started dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus, rather than the man on stage murdering "(Sha-La-La-La-La) Means I Love You" then my satisfaction would have been complete.

No such confrontation came about, but the noise prevailed until ten o’clock, only abating, it seemed, so I could get on a conference call with London. I suppose it might have been interesting if everyone on the line could have heard a man belting out a travesty of a 1960s classic, but it would hardly have been productivity-enhancing. And I’m all about the productivity.

On the way back home, I’d walked through China Square; they’ve finished the building work they started a while ago, and now there’s a long section with a roof high above it, to provide shade in the day and shelter from rain. It’s a very pleasant space, but devoid of atmosphere. Well, devoid of a massive community karaoke project, some line dancers and a lion dance team.

A line dancing lion dance. That has to be the logical conclusion.

I would have missed all this if I hadn’t been out late at a data analysis workshop in an office on Church Street. There are efforts to build a data hacking community in Singapore, by making data more freely available. Next week, there’ll be a whole data set of electricity consumption, per household, made available, and there’s bound to be some interesting things to do with that. This week, a plastics manufacturing company was challenging the data community of Singapore to predict its sales. Which didn’t seem quite as exciting, but it’s not often a company gives you detailed sales data to play with.

The data community of Singapore didn’t seem so thrilled. Or at least, the part of the data community in the room, which seemed to consist of grumpy old men. Perhaps they had reason to be grumpy; after an initial presentation where the speaker made the point that accurate forecasting isn’t just a matter of having the best statistical formulae – you need contextual information too – the data challenge seemed to hinge around finding a bunch of brainiacs, giving them some data without much context about the business, and hoping something valuable was synthesized from this.

On the way out, one grumpy old man complained to me that it was a cynical attempt to get people to do the company’s work for them without being paid, but I think it was closer to idealism. Here’s some data, here are some people who work with data all day, surely this should get us good results. That can work – Netflix could get a better recommendation algorithm by exposing a data set of users’ viewing habits to public analysis – but it felt here like there wasn’t enough contextual information. There was a very long Powerpoint presentation about plastics, but that felt like overkill, and the grumpy men were very cross.

Perhaps they needed more youthful idealists, with enthusiasm and a lack of experience.

Or perhaps they really needed some lion dancers and a man in a gold lame suit. We may never know.


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