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Monday, October 26, 2015

Rail Engineers are NOT Street Smart Enough?

The Straits Times Misrepresented Minister Khaw's Blogpost
I was upset when I saw how badly The Straits Times (see HERE) misrepresented Khaw Boon Wan's latest blogpost HERE with the headline - Singapore Rail System needs more street smart engineers. The Straits Times headline makes it seem as if Khaw Boon Wan were insulting all the rail engineers.

I do hope all the hardworking rail engineers will not take offence at the Minister's blogpost because if you REALLY take the time to read it properly, it is clear that the Minister is NOT saying that our rail engineers are stupid.

No More Under the Carpet Stuff Just To Make Government Look Good
Engineering is a bit like housework. If you sweep things under the carpet enough, rats will come. If you try to ignore crucial aspects of engineering responsibility, problems will come. Whether ill-advised by his subordinates or whether it was his own bent of mind, Lui Tuck Yew's administration did all of 3 things...

(1) He pushed responsibility to External Consultants (evident in how Consultants were brought in whenever issues arose...) 

(2) He pushed responsibility to operators (evident in how SMRT has been publicly reviled for everything that goes wrong with the rail system).

(3) He pushed responsibility to Codes of Practice (evident in how press releases always mentioned that the system adhered to Codes of Practice... and yet... and yet... still broke down)

Hence, I was MOST impressed to read Khaw Boon Wan's latest blogpost HERE. In a single blogpost, Khaw Boon Wan flipped upwards 3 carpets to expose engineering responsibilities that have been largely ignored thus far...
(1) Carpet #1: External consultants 
(2) Carpet #2: Operator maintenance 
(3) Carpet #3: Codes of practice 

It Is Our System. We Need To Know It Better Than External Consultants.
What are the engineering responsibilities thus far ignored, then? It is this... “Have you ever tried using third party consultants supplemented by independent street smart, sharp-eyed operating engineers who have years of experience on the job?

This means that over and beyond the engineers who now pull all nighters doing maintenance, we need engineers tasked to think about the especial quirks of OUR system... and who will spend time watching/learning/troubleshooting/worrying about how OUR system hangs together as a WHOLE... simply because it is OURS and thus, it is like no other in the world. Someone needs to look into the practicalities of WHOLE system design and the way the entire system interfaces with the local context (local usage, local weather, local terrain and local work processes).

You know, there is child psychology and then there is YOUR child. Whilst many general principles of child psychology can apply to your child, it is still a parent's responsibility to understand and think about how your own child is special/different.

That is why, even though Little Boy had teachers in school to teach him... even though he had online mentors in the online programme to mentor him, he was MY Little Boy and I spent hours thinking of him, thinking about him, worrying for him. He was a child like any other, but he was also MY child like no other... and I am proud to say that I, more than anyone else, know how he ticks.

A Minister In The Mould Of Lee Kuan Yew
One can almost cry in relief because here is a Minister who has chosen to truly make our rail system his own son. One can almost cry in relief because here is a Minister who is not afraid of infection/death from an infected entity. He flips up the 3 carpets and reaches out to his ailing son despite the taint. One can almost cry in relief because here is a Minister who is really in it to improve our lives, NOT just a career politician (afraid to offend and forced to defend) but one in the mould of Lee Kuan Yew (who speaks and acts with conviction).

Even more impressively, Khaw Boon Wan does not steal another's credit. Khaw Boon Wan's personal courage and intellectual honesty shine through in his decision to give his adviser's words a public airing, without plagiarism. The larger part of the blogpost are the words of Tan Gee Paw.

"Who is Tan Gee Paw?" I wondered.

It turns out that Tan Gee Paw is the Master Architect of Singapore's water supply. Our water supply is older than our rail system. Has anyone yet experienced disruptions in water supply? Has anyone yet experienced anything but clean and drinkable water from your taps?

Not only was Khaw Boon Wan able to attract a top class adviser to him, he was not afraid of the truth this top class adviser wrote to him in bald and hard hitting terms.

Wah! Singapore got hope leh!?

Now, hopefully, the Minister in charge of MOE's primary schools will also look under the carpets over there a bit, see past the complexities and capture the fundamentals of what good teaching should be because seriously, whilst our educational system is world class at testing, its teaching methods (imposed by large class sizes) are as old as Ford Motors. Not I say one horrrr... international experts note our strength in testing but they politely say NOTHING about our teaching methods.

What is Wrong With Roping In Shopkeepers?
The internet is abuzz with people who laugh at Khaw for requesting the involvement of shopkeepers. I think one should never underestimate the brilliance of stupid ideas.

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