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I am part of a large trial group in Singapore that has the option of changing electricity providers.

Photo of electricity meter.

Here is the timeline of what I did to jump bandwagons.

  • 26 Apr: Saw an advertisement for the tie up between my telco, StarHub, and the solar electricity provider, Sunseap.
  • 29 Apr: Visited a StarHub shop to sign up. Paid $110 deposit.
  • 7 May: As instructed, I sent a photo of my electricity meter and account information to Sunseap by WhatsApp.
  • 10 May: Seamless switch to Sunseap. No electrical disruption or incidents.

On 1 and 8 May, I received snail mail letters from the incumbent electricity provider, SP, for the switch (it called it “market support services”) and the termination of my electricity account.

In the meantime, the many rival companies are everywhere in a nearby mall. Most people do not know or seem to care about the switch. Even fewer seem concerned about relying on a clean and renewable source of electricity.

I noticed this advertisement at a local telco store. The product claims to protect the mobile lines of children for a monthly fee. Is the price for peace of mind or are adults fooling themselves?

StarHub advertisement.

Consider another example. YouTube recently received unwanted attention for their paid service, YouTube Kids. Its walled garden invited weeds like videos that featured violence, lewdness, and conspiracy theories. A newer version of the app claims to give parents finer grain control and filtering. [Sources: CNA and NYT]

Observers might say that YouTube is absolving itself of the responsibility of monitoring content. I wonder if they can also see that YouTube is doing what the telco also does — charging money for ineffective walled gardens.

We should not kids ourselves. The filters and management options might work some of the time, but they are not perfect. No system is. The service providers know that people will pay for ignorant peace of mind.

When adults or parents buy this “safety”, they might also absolve themselves of the responsibility to model and teach responsible and positive behaviours to kids.

The power to model and teach comes not so much with financial cost but with effort cost. The sad thing is that so many people find it easier to outsource their work and paying someone else to do it.

This is a follow up on going green “does not compute”.

To recap, Sunseap, a solar-to-electric provider joined forces with a local telco, StarHub, to provide two energy plans.

Sunseap-StarHub green energy plans.

Plan 1 was to go 100% solar but pay the same electricity tariff as the incumbent, Singapore Power (SP). This made no sense to me as the tariffs are tied to the price of natural gas. Solar energy is available as long as the sun shines.

Plan 2 was to get 20% off SP’s tariff but compromise on the energy source — only 5% was solar. This also made no sense other than saving money at the expense of still being 95% reliant on natural gas.

In my previous reflection, I wondered why there was no third option: 100% solar-sourced energy at a discount. I visited a store and spoke to two service folk. One said that he could not address my concern. Another said she and others brought this up, but higher-ups made those decisions.

The second representative also said that they wanted customers to sign up for Plan 2. Their rationale was that Plan 2 was an easy way to introduce customers to green energy. So the plan was to appeal to the pocket instead of thinking about the planet?

Such thinking is logically flawed. There is no need to tie the electricity tariff to the cost of natural gas since the source of energy is the sun. If the power company, Sunseap, wants to increase its base it could offer a significant discount on a 100% solar-sourced plan.

Part of their customer base might not be comfortable going solar. Sunseap could remind them that Apple Asia Pacific and the Housing Development Board (HDB) are in its fold.

Another part of the base wants to go solar. I include myself in that group. However, I do not want to cheat myself or the planet in doing so.

I eventually signed up for Plan 2 after providing my suggestions. Now here is another. Despite is being late in the afternoon, I noticed that I was only the third name in a clipboard list to do so. This was despite the provider offering gifts of a voucher or Google Home mini.

There is no need for gifts or novelty. The current plans do not compute because they do not make sense. Your customer base is not stupid or drawn only by pursestrings. I say they cut the gimmicks and just offer an attractive discount delinked from existing tariffs for 100% solar-sourced electricity.


Video source

“Does not compute, does not compute…” was my reaction when I found out about the “green” deals offered by StarHub and Sunseap.

What am I referring to?

The local electricity market has been opened to competitors and I live in a region that is part of the trial to switch from the incumbent to one of many options.

The one company that I could find that uses solar panels to generate electricity is Sunseap. This company seems to have a tie up with StarHub, the telco I happen to subscribe to.

Both claim to be green — Sunseap uses solar energy and StarHub has a green logo. Presumably both expect to make a lot of green from the partnership.

While my choice seems automatic, I am confused by the two options they present:

Two choices by StarHub/Sunseap.

Choice A is “for the green conscious” and if you read the details, I pay the same price as the incumbent even if I make the switch. The energy source is supposedly 100% solar. Apparently I reward myself with feel-goods and back-pats.

Choice B is “for maximum savings”. Why? I pay 80% of the incumbent’s tariff, but the compromise is that only 5% of the energy is from a clean source. So I pay less, but the planet takes up my slack.

What sort of choice is that?

Why is there not a third choice where I sign up for 100% solar and get a discount for not relying on electricity by natural gas or fossil fuels? Frankly, this should be the only choice.

What are these green companies not telling me?

Yesterday I shared some simple and general things I learnt from my visit to Amsterdam. Today I share what I learnt about the people I met and even those I did not meet in person.

The Dutch seem to possess a dry wit. I know this from the way street artists and window dressers expressed themselves.

In the windows and walls of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

In the windows, walls & bikes of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The people I dealt with — from the public transport ticket agent to the sandwich lady to the SIM card guy — were very direct. Their mindset could be represented by this sign I saw at a knick-knack shop: Be nice, or go away.

Sign: Be nice, or go away!

I was nice, so I did not go away. But in being nice, I used phrases that did not work. For example, I revisited a sandwich shop that I chanced upon and discovered that the friendly old man was replaced by a seemingly uptight lady.

As I was there at opening time, I asked, “Are you open for businesses?” The lady replied, “Well, the door is open.”

Me: I mean… Are you ready to serve?

She: Let me wash my hands.

Me: (Waiting silently, looking at all corners of the store)

She: (At the sink area) You can order. I am not facing you, but I can hear you.

I made conversation about meeting the old man who told me that they were going to sell piccante, a spicy meat. I ordered two piccante sandwiches and my wife wanted two small slabs to bring home.

While the sandwiches heated up, the lady cut a few slices of piccante for us to nibble on.

I not only learnt where the best sandwiches in Amsterdam were, I also learnt how to be more direct with the Dutch.

The Dutch in the service industry were also prompt. Very much so.

I only exchanged emails with the host of my apartment. He said that he only had a landline, but I suspect that my emails to him were rerouted through an app on his phone or computer. Our email exchanges quick that they felt more like being on WhatsApp.

Montage of some screenshots of a display at the #vangoghmuseum #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

I also emailed the Van Gogh Museum because I wanted to get tickets in advance. I had an I Amsterdam card that allowed me to get into the museum for free. However I noticed that:

  • There was an online time slot booking system
  • People queued to get tickets in one line
  • The same people queued again in another line to get in
  • Some people used their phones to skip the first line

I wanted to know if I could get a mobile-based ticket by choosing time slot online with my I Amsterdam card. I emailed the museum and got a reply. The bad news was that I had to queue twice. The good news was that the reply arrived within an hour.

Some folks here take pride in being efficient or productive. I challenge that notion with the museum example. I also provide evidence of how slovenly we can be by comparison.

Upon returning to Singapore, I learnt that my telco had disabled access to my account information. This was true for the mobile app and the web-based portal.

StarHub app access denied.

I emailed my telco three days ago and have not received a reply. Not even an acknowledgement.

In learning about others, we learn about ourselves. When we look in that mirror, do we like what we see? Do we do something positive about it?

Last year I outlined how the poorly designed McCafe app could be used to learn design principles. Missteps and mistakes are often the best sources of learning.

My StarHub is an app that I use to check my data consumption and it is a wellspring of lessons on how NOT to design a mobile app.

The app claims to let users customise what they see. Currently, there are four fixed cards and six selectable ones. The latter are selected by default.

One cannot actually customise as 1) there are fixed selections (including ads), and 2) if deselected, the optional cards return after restarting the app.

The people behind the StarHub app might have forgotten (or do not care) that the customer likes to customise. Perhaps they need to adopt a new custom and repeat it as a mantra.

The app also breaks the old web page three-click rule. This is the rule that states that a user should be able to find what they need within three mouse clicks. In the mobile app universe, this should be a one or two tap rule given the nature of the platform.

Once I open the app, I need to make six taps to know how much data I have consumed in detail. I need to tap on:

  1. My Account.
  2. Mobile usage.
  3. The filter option (I manage and pay for my family’s numbers and mine does not appear by default and I have no option to choose my mobile number as default.)
  4. My number in the filter.
  5. The done button.
  6. Data usage to view current usage.

The app offers a minimalist graphic on main page that looks nice, but 1) it does not always appear, 2) when it does, it sometimes happens after a delay, 3) it is not detailed enough for my needs.

All this puts form over function and the needs of the designers over that of the user. This makes for a terrible app experience and I am reminded of it every time I use it.

Designers of user interfaces should be familiar with the concept of user-centric design. I wish more were passionate about the practice of the same. This is particularly important for designers of educational apps, especially those that provide access to content and learning management systems. No one wants angry, frustrated, or anxious users even before the learning begins.


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