Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Now there's WebGL. Is the browser becoming a fat client?

At the start of the decade, the browser is always known as a thin client. It is able to display the presentation layer while the heavy duty processing is usually done on the server end. However increasingly, it seems that the browser is getting "fatter". It started with the Javascript and DHTML. Now, there's a new standard coming up called WebGL.

WebGL is similar to OpenGL. It's the language that will enable you to do 3D modelling right on your web browser. Theoretically, this could mean you can play 3D games right off the browser. Exciting? However, this is where I worry. We're fast crossing the line where the browser itself becomes a mini application server.

Why worry? Quite simple. Previously, the only way to "catch" a virus is for you to physically run the virus on your computer or for some hacker to exploit some security vulnerability to enable them to execute a malicious script to allow them to take over your computer. The browser nowadays seem to be loaded with many extra processing features which means that the hackers will have more things to "play with".

If WebGL is able to harness the power of your 3D graphics card, that would also mean that the application in the browser could somehow access your computer's hardware. If the browser could access your hardware, what's stopping the browser from accessing the other parts of your computer? Namely your hard disk where your important information is being stored?

From the security perspective, I'm quite against WebGL being built into the browser. However, if it's a plug-in (which you can disable as and when) and there are rules that dictate that the browser is sandboxed (restricted) to certain functions, this may be feasible. So far though, I've read nothing with regards to this.

Worrying isn't it?

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cheaper, Better, Faster

Recently, I've finally heard a minister define the words cheaper, better and faster. It does offer a different perspective on their definition because it's not what people expected. This is my definition of what I perceived from that article.

Doing more work with the same pay (not less pay) to increase productivity.

Be more productive by going for courses to understand new ways of doing things and not be afraid of trying it out.

Improve your business processes through other means like IT-enabling the processes or streamlining the business flow.

I believe many people take the words literally but somehow this wasn't the case when I read the article. Do I agree with it? Personally, I'll agree with the definitions if it is in the following order:
  1. Better
  2. Faster
  3. Cheaper

The reason is quite simple. After going for courses and understanding new ways of doing things, you'll be able to better streamline your business processes / enabling it through IT and thus increase the staff's productivity and increase the revenue. The "Cheaper" option is actually a by-product of being better and faster.

The funny thing is that by my definition, it's possible to be "cheaper" and yet get salary raises because your increase in productivity will actually help generate more revenue for the company, and will help "fund" your salary increments/promotions.

Personally, I'll just use the 2 punch lines. Better and Faster. Those are the actions that you'll need to take before you'll reach the end goal... Cheaper.

iPhone 3GS uses only 10% battery power in 1 day!

Many forums have blasted Apple for the short battery life-span of the iPhone. Recently, I may have finally understood why this may not be totally true through my abnormal usage of the iPhone. :)

Why abnormal? All iPhone users with data plans will always use the iPhone to access some applications every now and then, be it a game, news reader or a utility. On that particular day, I've somehow only used the iPhone for phone calls and SMSes as I had a busy day. No time to even look at my "favorite" news applications or emails. I was surprised to find out at the end of the day, I have only used 10% of the battery life. I did had a few phone calls and SMSes throughout that day. This is actually comparable to the SE W595's battery life. The caveat of course is that I have did some battery optimisation for my iPhone. You can refer to my previous post here.

Translated... If you're using the iPhone as if you're using any other phone, you can actually get comparable battery life. But then again, why on earth would iPhone users want to do that? That defeats the purpose of getting the iPhone. :)

On a separate note, the iPhone 3GS seems to have slightly better battery life than the iPhone 3G. I am now able to "survive comfortably" on the iPhone for 2 days without charging. Hmm...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seeking Love and Happiness

I quote from a Course in Miracles:

Your task is not to seek for love and happiness, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within that you have built against it

Love and happiness is always all around us. The point is whether are we opening our eyes and our heart so that we could see clearly what may have been near us all this while.

It takes too much strength to build up barriers. Learn to let go when it's possible and you'll find yourself a happier person.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Furniture hunting is hard work

I did not expect to spend Christmas hunting around for furniture but that's basically my programme for the day.

Seems like I have been hunting for furniture if there is any spare time on my hands. Trying to match the design / color / theme of the house with the furniture is driving us nuts, not to mention that we have to keep within budget.

The problem is that off-the-shelf furniture may not fit very well with the theme you have in mind. I have hunted in the usual haunts (courts, furniture mall, novena, ikea) with limited success. It doesn't help that Singapore flats are quite small to begin with, which means extra care must be taken to ensure that you have enough walking space after your furniture is fitted in (and fits your theme as well).

My advice to those moving in to a new flat to start your furniture hunting early. It is not as easy as you think it is and do note that different furniture shops have different rules with regards to delayed delivery. Based on my understanding, Courts is ideal for situations where you need soon/immediate delivery while others may allow delayed delivery (e.g. Furniture Mall, Novena). You'll need to ask around.

Merry Christmas

Visit Rhinestic's Knick Knacks @ Etsy for handmade goods and supplies!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Inflation is down 0.2%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2009:
January: 2.9%
February: 1.9%
March: 1.6%
April: -0.7%
May: -0.3%
June: -0.5%
July: -0.5%
August: -0.3%
September: -0.4%
October: -0.8%
November: -0.2%

Transport & Communication and Health Care is leading the charge, rising by 2.4% and 2.3% respectively year on year. Housing costs once again decreased the most (-4.6%) but will most probably increase from 1st January 2010 due to the increase in property tax, but will be mitigated slightly by the tax rebates. As indicated previously, transport & communication inflation has risen quite substantially..

The good news (for business) is that except for housing costs, deflation has stopped and prices are rising compared to last year. This is one of the signs that the economy is recovering. This year's inflation should be up around 0.2% year on year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Go or no Go?

When you think of Go, the last thing on your mind would be a programming language, but this is what Google did. It may be an outcome of spending 20% of your time on your pet projects but till now, I'm not so sure on why Google created another programming language.

Anyway, I had a quick look through at Go's website and it looks remarkable similar to C++. My guess is that they are trying to put this language into Chrome OS. They may be trying to create a language that would be power and time efficient on small devices like netbooks and maybe even Android. With this language, they may be able to build and run complex applications faster.

Does it make sense to create a separate language? I do acknowledge that the garbage collection implemented in certain languages leave much to be desired and multi-processing requires you to know rocket science but still, I don't really think fragmenting the world of programming languages is the way to resolve it. Oh well...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Renovation is finally starting

After a month of searching, my house renovation is finally starting. I guess the main mistake I made was I had a misconception that there would be a detailed floor plan upon receiving my keys. The answer is no. Upon receiving my house keys, only the electricity and water drawings were supplied. I had to use the floor plan (which I thought was draft) that was supplied previously when I booked the flat.

Therefore, if you have a tight schedule, you might want to use that floor plan and talk to the contractors first before getting the keys. HDB allows you to immediately turn on the water and power supplies upon receiving your keys, saving time if you're in a hurry. If you did not turn on the supply on the day you receive the keys, the next fastest way will be to either open the utility account in person, or fax your documents in.

I did not know who to trust to renovate my flat so I started my contractor search using the most obvious choice, the pamphlets underneath the door. After doing some comparisons (thank goodness there's the Internet), I had decided to put my new flat in the hands of Lowe Living Concept. Mr James Loh will be in-charge of my project. If all goes smoothly, my flat will be ready just before CNY.

Why did I choose them? I guess it's because I'm touched by his sincerity and I find that he is knowledgeable in both renovation and design. I needed help in design because I wanted a place where I could relax after a hard day's work. One thing I like about James is that he is quite good at making recommendations and he is not afraid of speaking his mind if our requirements will look a little weird in the end. I always believe the customers are not always right. :) I guess I'm a little picky too. I had him revised the quotation many many times. :p

Personally, it would be easier for the contractor to advice you if you have a good idea on what you want your house to look like. It's also good if you have all the information at your fingertips so as to save time. On the day I signed the contract and paid the deposit, I've already confirmed the colors and window grilles so he could work on the designs. Hopefully that would speed things up and prevent needless iterations.

In parallel, I had also started booking my furniture. I have confirmed a 2L shape sofa from Species Home Furnishing and will soon confirm my bed with Novena. Both to be delivered first week of Feb. I do hope I'll be in time for CNY though. My weekends will be super packed.

All in all, I hope this experience will be a good one. I'll leave my flat in the good hands of James. I hope... By the way, I'm not affiliated with them and I do not get any discounts writing this post. :p This is for me to keep track of the process and not to make the same mistakes in future.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The problem of Copenhagen: Too many cooks spoil the broth

Not that I'm not in favour of a climate treaty being reached in Copenhagen, but it's a meeting that I personally felt is doomed to failure even before the meeting started.

The reason to me is purely psychological. 194 nations, from different backgrounds and different interests, coming together to agree on one common treaty. I do not need a crystal ball but I was already 90% sure that it'll end up in failure. I believe if you ask anyone who is trained in human behaviour and they'll tell you the same answer.

What is missing is a catalyst. A powerful push driver to push nations to an agreement. I'm no politician but I believe this kind of treaty need to be kicked off in phases and not a big bang approach which is what Copenhagen is trying to achieve. You'll need a small, but powerful group of nations to kickstart the process. Renewable energy is a big business proposition and nations with this know-how could kick start it by signing a common treaty (a variation of free trade agreement) with the countries most affected to provide this technology and financing. This treaty could have provisions within that will limit the participants to the signatories of this treaty and have clauses that are aligned to Kyoto treaty.

Some nations will of course protest to this kind of arrangement but like it or not, that's the way to kickstart the process. I find it virtually impossible to get 194 nations to commit to a single agreement. They should look at it in reverse. Create a common treaty which all nations will want to join in. To do that, you'll need to first create the environment.

A fresh start, and don't start the blaming game. Personally I think this would have a higher probable chance of success than the current route.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reaction towards Change

I quote from M. Scott Peck:

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.

I guess this is related to the attitude and the reaction we have towards change. The harder it is to adapt to the change, the more likely it'll be imprinted to your mind, and also more likely where there is either a very positive or negative impact.

If it's a positive impact, it'll be your finest moment. If it's a negative impact, it'll be the time where you'll have to learn from the experience.

In any case, change is always a constant. No running away from it.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cloud Computing vs Build

There are always 2 main reasons why IT introduce changes in system/technology:
  1. Reduction in costs (efficiency, technology, etc); or/and
  2. Reduction in risks (outdated technology, servers, user buy-in, etc)

So far, the general "sales talk" I've heard so far on cloud computing is on reduction in costs. However, I'm still not totally convinced that there is a true reduction in costs, looking 3 to 5 years ahead.

Why? Maybe I'm a pessimistic but based on my experience talking to users, they always want to have changes made to the systems fast and cheap. There will always be change requests after the system is built. Cloud computing I doubt can fulfill this criteria.

Why not fast? Because cloud computing services are essentially shared services. They are like public transport. It gets you from point a to point b at a reasonable price. That's it. If you want to watch DVDs, get your own DVD player. The services that you are using are being used by many organisations/people. They can't change the software just for you. Even if they can, because of the scale of the system, it will not be fast as they need to worry about compatibility with other user requirements.

Why not cheap? Because I believe cloud computing services are built with a certain roadmap in mind. If your user requirements vary from this roadmap (so far based on my experience, it has always been the case), it will take some effort to customise the software, if it can be done in the first place without affecting the other users from other organisations. Even if it is possible, the software is not meant for such customisations and response time may be affected.

I've always felt that the word scalability is over-used. Yes, a software can be designed to be scalable, but it all depends on the user. The designer can envision how the software design can grow, if the user's present and future requirements were communicated. If not, customisations can still be made but it will not be optimal in relation to the design. This will most often result in slower response time or even more defects appearing in the system every now and then.

So over the long run, the users may request more change requests, which the cloud computing vendor may or may not be able to fulfill. This will neither be cheap nor fast in my opinion. There will also be an increase in risks if the system is unable to cater for urgent change requests. Looking at a 3 to 5 years horizon, I don't see how cloud computing can be better than building a system on-premise.

Having said that, this does not mean that all systems are not suitable for the cloud. As I've shared previously, I feel that low risk systems or general operational systems (like e-mail) may still be suitable. They are generally low risk systems that do not change much over the years.

Cloud computing in my opinion cannot support requirements scalability, which is what ultimately the users are most concerned. Not everyone can be like Apple. Or can they?

TV Mobile is finally gone. Good riddance

After 9 years, it was finally decided that TV mobile will be discontinued. I wonder why it took them so long to figure out that this form of media will not work in Singapore

The reason is very simple. Singapore is too small. Going from one place to another on bus takes at most an hour (assuming no heavy traffic jams). Most of the time, it's about half an hour. Who will be interested in taking the bus just to watch a show on TV mobile?

Furthermore, our bus services were not that great in the first place. As consumers, we would rather want the bus companies to improve the service and frequency of the buses than to put useless stuff like the TV. Why spend effort on the optional items when the mandatory items are not even accepted?

I hope the bus services will work with LTA to figure out how to improve and attract more people to take the public transport.

On a side note, I also think that the TV shows (some idol show?) in SMRT train stations are unimportant and will soon go the way of TV Mobile. Up to now, I don't even know what "drama" are they showing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Classic example of "Have one's cake and eat it too"

To look for an example of "Have one's cake and eat it too", look no further than the recent Dubai World's shock announcement of a possible bond default, which was adverted with the intervention of Abu Dhabi.

Why classic example? Reason is very simple. The Dubai government owns 100% of Dubai World, but they come out to say that they are not responsible for the debts incurred by Dubai World

Personally, I believe that from the corporate point of view, there's nothing wrong with this statement. Dubai World is a separate entity from the Dubai government, and it has its own board. However, the problem lies that rating agencies may also decide the credit ratings of a company based on who owns it.

When you have such cases where the government outright disowns the problems plaguing the Government Linked Companies (GLC), it shows that the credit ratings for such companies have to be discounted and frequently reviewed as the rating agencies will then need to look at the viability of the projects being done and the make-up of the board of directors.

I believe that was also why Abdu Dhabi stepped in to help. Just imagine that if Abu Dhabi allows the default to happen, basically all credibility will be lost for ALL Arab companies. Rating agencies will most probably do a mass downgrade of credit ratings, thereby driving up borrowing costs for every single GLC, which may not even be restricted to the Arab world.

However, Dubai has made the mistake of announcing this intention and the damage has been done. Soon, I believe rating agencies will need to re-evaluate how they assign credit ratings to GLC since there has been proof of governments disowning their GLCs.

I believe Dubai World is going to have a diarrhea soon.

Don't be afraid of asking questions

I quote from a Chinese proverb:

One who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; one who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

Like I always tell my friends, don't be afraid of asking questions. The only stupid question is the question that you did not ask.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

CPF Changes from 1 January 2010

The following changes to the CPF will be effective from 1st January 2010:
  • CPF Medisave Required Amount (MRA) will be raised from the current $18,000 to $22,500.

    If members have less than the Required Amount in their Medisave Accounts, their Ordinary and/or Special Account balances in excess of the Minimum Sum will be used to top up the Required Amount.

  • Extension of the 4% floor rate for interest earned on all Special and Medisave Accounts (SMA) monies and Retirement Account (RA) monies for another year until 31 December 2010. After 31 December 2010, the 2.5% floor rate will apply for all CPF accounts.

    Interest rate would have been 3.31% if not for the extension.

Refer to my previous post here on my comments on the extension of the 4% floor rate. I still don't understand the logic behind this ruling.

iPhone Battery Percentage Indicator

It has been a long time since I've posted anything on the iPhone. :) Found one more useful tip. Want to have a more accurate perspective of how much battery juice you have left? Seems like the iPhone 3.0 OS has this battery percentage indicator (finally!).

To enable this indicator, just do the following:
  1. Tap on Settings > General > Usage
  2. Ensure your Battery Percentage is ON

That's it. Now you'll see a battery percentage indicator beside the battery icon.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Postman should prevent spam, and not just let the spammers get away with it!

Just some time back on a weekday, I was having lunch at a coffeeshop at some corner of Tiong Bahru when I observed something that shocked me.

I saw a postman opening the master letterbox to post letters. At that moment, an uncle appeared and started putting in spam (pamphlets) for each letterbox. The postman just stared at him and did absolutely nothing! In fact, he stepped aside and let that uncle finish spamming before posting his letters!

The postman shows a total disregard of the responsibility of holding on to the master key for the letterbox. What's the purpose of having this master key? To allow people to slip in pamphlets?

To me, it just shows that the postman shows a total disregard to the responsibility he is holding. Can Singpost monitor this kind of behaviour? Not likely. I was too far to take any clear pictures. Otherwise, the postman will find himself on STOMP.

How to prevent this? Haven't the faintest idea. If the person shows disregard to the responsibility he is holding, there is nothing much the organisation can do except to punish him during appraisal, provided they have evidence.

The only way I guess is to put that postman's face up in STOMP. I might start bringing a camera with me next time during lunch.

Monday, December 7, 2009

iPhone plans for M1 and Starhub

As I indicated in the previous post here, the iPhone plans are finally ready for both M1 and Starhub before Christmas. You can take a look at the individual plans if you click on the above links. However for some reason, Starhub does not have the price of the iPhone for each plan. M1's iPhones will start selling on 9 Dec.

Anyway in general, M1's iPhone plans are the cheapest of all the 3 telcos. I guess M1 is serious about taking market share. All along, they have positioned themselves as a content provider which was why I was surprised they did not offer iPhone in the first place.

Based on M1's pricing, it seems that they are not banking on making money off the data plans. Instead, I think they might be aiming to jump into the AppStore bandwagon and maybe start developing applications so as to have another recurrent income. Just a thought.

Now let's see Singtel's reaction. I wonder will the Singtel subscribers jump ship now?

Covering rooftops of Singapore with solar panels only provide 20%+ of the total electricity needed. How about indirect benefits?

Recently I read in the newspaper remarking that covering all Singapore roof-tops with solar panels will only provide 20%+ of the total electricity needed and that energy conservation is more viable. Petrol/Diesel is still the number one cause of pollution.

I do not disagree that energy conservation is important but based on a layman's perspective, I'm not sure if the author has taken into account the indirect benefits that solar panels can bring.

Some of the points which I can think of is
  1. that most residential areas do not use much power during working hours and the unused energy can be tapped by the commercial areas during these periods. Likewise on weekends where commercial areas use less power, the energy can be fed back into the residential areas;
  2. that we can build up our expertise by investing early into solar R&D. Solar efficiency and solar storage can only improve over time, provided R&D is done. Look at the first generation of motor cars and the F1 cars now. This also indirectly provide jobs for Singaporeans;
  3. that solar parking lots or solar electricity stations can be built to encourage the use of electric cars in Singapore. I heard that in Google, these parking lots allow the electric cars to be charged by the solar panels when it is parked.

They are of course many other indirect benefits that such investments will bring. We should be more proactive in terms of energy efficiency and conservation instead of waiting for the big guys to do all the work first, and we pay through our noses for this technology when it is ready. How do you measure such savings from indirect benefits?

Friday, December 4, 2009

How do you give assurance on the security when you do not know where the server is located?

Recently I read someone giving a very good point on why businesses are still not receptive of public computing. The reason is quite simple actually.

In every system development project, I'm sure you would have drawn network diagrams depicting where the server is located, what rack, what firewall, etc in your technical document. However in the public cloud, what assurance you have on that? How do you know that the software that is running on the cloud won't be easily hacked? How do you know if a person won't just walk into the data centre containing the software you're using, plug in a USB thumb drive, and proceed to dump all your important information in it?

You won't know... And that's the problem. After following up on cloud computing for so long, the only solution I can think of to this security problem is the hybrid cloud solution. You control the data in your own cloud which will communicate to the public cloud.

Therefore in any cloud solution, you should always look out if the vendor is locking you in to their cloud services. Does the cloud platform follow standards? Can it communicate to another platform? I'm sure some remember the good old days where some big guy refused to follow the web services standard, causing a lot of trouble to all software developers.

Keep your eyes open and beware of being locked in.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Complusory for Foreigners to take English course for service staff. How about Lecturers?

Today I read about attempts to improve the service level of the staff by making it compulsory for foreigners to take the English course. But I think they have forgotten about 1 more area. How about lecturers?

In some schools, it's compulsory for students to take an English basic course if your English is not that good. However, someone forgot to make this compulsory for the lecturers too! For some reason, since many years ago, it is not compulsory for lecturers to speak proper English. To me, I find this extremely weird. Sometimes, you cannot even understand a word that the lecturer is saying. And guess what? Sometimes the lecturers also do not understand the questions pose to them.

So how do students pass their exams? It's called Internet and textbooks.

Luckily, this does not apply to all foreign lecturers but based on my "spies", it seems that the number of lecturers not being able to speak proper English is not decreasing. In fact, I do not even require them to speak proper English. Conversational English is enough.

The number one requirement for lecturers should be the ability for them to communicate to the students. Isn't that the point in learning?? I find this extremely ironic.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Google Streetview has finally arrived in Singapore!

Google Streetview has finally arrived in Singapore a little over a year after I posted about it. How do you activate Google Streetview? There are a few ways of doing it. Easiest would be to search for the address (e.g. Orchard Road). On the left hand side, you will see a More link. Click on it and select the Street View option.

The other method is quite interesting. Just zoom in to any part of Singapore. You'll see a orange man on top of the zoom slider bar. Drag the orange man out of the zoom slider bar and "deposit" it anywhere on the map. You'll automatically be in the Street View mode.

Pretty cool right? Hop on to Google Maps for Singapore and try it out. :)

For your information, ERP and bus information is also available now in Google Maps Singapore. Pretty neat.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Iron-clad guarantees? No such thing in the real world

I'm surprised that even at this age, there's still people who thinks that there's such thing as iron-clad guarantees. I remembered reading somewhere about someone requesting the annuity payouts from CPF to be guaranteed (iron-clad).

Well first of all, there is a reason why it's called an annuity payout, and not a pension payout. The annuity provided by CPF is basically a longevity insurance product where a series of payouts will be given until you have passed on. The amount of regular payouts given depends on the initial lump sum that's put into the annuity and the investment returns of that sum of money.

Why couldn't CPF guarantee the payment amount? As much as I would love that, this will not happen because money doesn't fall down from the sky. If these payouts are guaranteed, the money will come from somewhere and it will either translate to higher income taxation, or GST. Either case, I'm not in favour of it. I'm also totally against borrowing money to fund this kind of expenditure. Look at the Dubai World fiasco now and you'll understand the reason why. Even a GLC company in Dubai can default on its loan.

Comparisons can be made to the private sector annuities and some of them are more attractive. However, there's one thing that everyone seemed to forget. CPF will never be bankrupt (I hope so), but private companies will. That's one of the main reasons why CPF took over the management of the annuity instead of leaving it to the private sector as it was originally planned. Many people complained about it, myself included. Just imagine... Even a hundred + year old company like Lehman Brothers can collapse, so which company won't?

Seriously, I would think that a basic finance cost for all secondary or JC students is in order. With this kind of education, it would be easier for the public to understand why are certain decisions made in the future.

There is no such thing as iron-clad guarantees in the real world. Anyone who does any form of investments will know that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

How do you accurately measure productivity?

Recently there have been news saying that there is a reduction of productivity and that this results in a loss of competitiveness.

Basically, I think this is rubbish because I find that the measurement of productivity is quite gray. Using an example... Is the person that makes 20 sales a month productive, or the person who assists in the administrative work of the salesman that makes 20 sales a month productive? The problem with productivity is that the calculation is quite gray (at least to me) and that very often, the excuse of increasing productivity is just to increase the workload of the common worker.

Using the above example, What happens if the administrative staff is removed because they are deem unproductive? Do you think that the salesman can still make 20 sales a month or will the salesman just make 10 sales because he/she will drown in the administrative work of those 10 sales? I will say the latter is more probable.

In this case, trying to make your business more productive will result in a vicious cycle because the end-result will that it will look like a cost-cutting initiative. Productivity will go down while costs is being cut because of the simple fact that they don't find any reason to stay. Trying to squeeze more sales from a person need not mean that you should just pile this person with work and see if he/she swims or drown.

That's why I think measurement of effectiveness of the work force is best measured using the companies' results report. If the staff is productive, it will translate to the company's overall bottom line. It's just that simple. The people supporting the backend work should not be forgotten and treated as un-productive because they do fill an important role within the organisation. Without them greasing the wheels so as to speak, your top people will just drown in the mountains of paperwork needed.

So take those productivity figures with a pinch of salt. The boss will be quite familiar with the company's best interests and change accordingly.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Borders bookshops in UK goes under administration!

For those that think that the economy is going to recover, think again. A year ago, Woolsworth (supermarket chain) went into administration and was subsequently closed down. Now, it seems that Borders bookshops in UK, numbering about 45 stores, are also going into administration. They are now looking for a buyer for those stores and will remain open in the time being.

It seems though that Borders Singapore and Borders UK are under different management. Borders UK is under a private equity firm called Valco while Borders Singapore is under REDgroup Retail, which manages the bookstores for Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Therefore, I do not think Borders Singapore will be affected by this piece of news.

But still, this does not bode well for traditional brick and mortar businesses. That means the dominoes may still be falling but somehow they are out of view and out of sight. This global recession stems from the financial sector and I don't think it will bounce back up so fast. Today's news even talk about the Dubai government that may default on their borrowings!

Keep your eyes open and be thankful for whatever that you have now, especially your rice bowl.

Fear that you do not have value

I quote from Jennifer James:

Jealousy is simply and clearly the fear that you do not have value. Jealousy scans for evidence to prove the point - that others will be preferred and rewarded more than you. There is only one alternative - self-value. If you cannot love yourself, you will not believe that you are loved. You will always think it's a mistake or luck. Take your eyes off others and turn the scanner within. Find the seeds of your jealousy, clear the old voices and experiences. Put all the energy into building your personal and emotional security. Then you will be the one others envy, and you can remember the pain and reach out to them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mandating using only local software? You will just bring about the downfall of the country's IT industry

Recently a certain country has mandated their government agencies to give preference to local software. To me, that's the biggest mistake you can ever make in policy-making.

Why? Reason is very simple. If your local developers do produce quality software, they will not worry about not finding deals. People will want to look for you because they know that you can be "trusted" to provide a solution.

The problem comes when you do not have the expertise in providing that solution. This is where the big players come in. Most of them will partner with locals as it will be easier for them to allocate their resources. In return, they sometimes share with them their expertise and knowledge. This is the way local developers can grow.

By giving preference to local developers, you're sending the message to these big guys that you do not welcome them. So why would they help your local developers to improve? There's nothing in it for them. Your local developers will also not be able to grow as fast in terms of their professional expertise because there is no "mentor" to guide them.

It'll be interesting to see that country's IT expertise 5 years down the road. Only the very best will be able to survive. Those people that want to join the industry will drop out one by one as there is no mentor to guide them. IT literacy may drop as a result and there will be shortage of skilled IT developers.

Worth it? Looks like another short-term view of looking at things.

Cloud Computing does not cut down duplication of resources. Virutalisation does!

Someone wrote an article saying that cloud computing cuts down total cost of ownership because of savings in duplication of resources needed for each application (e.g. servers). That to me is not the true advantage of cloud computing.

Reason is very simple. You can achieve the same savings just by going for the virtualisation route. Once you have virtualised your servers, it's quite simple to manage your resources on demand. Virtualisation may be quite painful to implement at the start but once implemented, you will be able to make better use of your server resources, especially for those instances where you buy 1 server just to run that special batch job from midnight to 4am in the morning. Allocation of resources can also be dynamic, moving resources from one application to another when the application needs it most.

So you want to cut down your TCO? Virtualisation is your answer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Inflation is down 0.8%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2009:
January: 2.9%
February: 1.9%
March: 1.6%
April: -0.7%
May: -0.3%
June: -0.5%
July: -0.5%
August: -0.3%
September: -0.4%
October: -0.8%

Clothing and Footwear and Health Care has resumed leading the charge, rising by 2.7% and 2.2% respectively year on year. Housing costs once again decreased the most for the month (-4.7%) but will most probably increase soon due to the increase in property tax. As indicated previously, transport and communication inflation has also turned positive to 0.6%.

Sales seem to have slightly increase, based on what I could see in Orchard Road. However, I do not think this spike will push the inflation back to positive. I will still stick to my earlier post.

No Good Service? That's because of a short term view

The last time I had a good experience with service staff in Singapore was in a Turkish restaurant in Shaw Plaza. Even though there were 7 of us, each ordering different dishes, he remembered every dish that was called including the person who ordered it. There was no need for any prompting from any of us on who called what dish. The food was of course great.

End result? I will recommend this restaurant to more of my friends if they have a sudden craving for Turkish food or some food out of the ordinary. That's the dividends that good service will give if practiced sincerely and I do not mean those half-hearted greetings when you enter the shop, or the memorised script that some service staff read out as if they were sitting for an exam. Whether the staff means what they say, you can read it all just by the tone of the voice.

When you're looking at good service level in general, you have to think longer term. You might not get the results you want immediately and people may also take advantage of you. Bear in mind though that there are always a few rotten eggs in the basket. You should not think of the few bad eggs and instead think of the other good ones, one of which may be a hidden golden egg. If just because of those few bad eggs and you decided not make an effort to provide good service, you'll not be able to differentiate your business from the rest and you can get ready to shuttle down your doors soon as you will lack customer loyalty.

Good service also need not necessary mean that you have to lose money. A small gesture on the business owners' part can sometimes go a long way. After coming back from Japan, I miss the service that I've encountered there. Bear in mind that they do not even have service charge!

One very simple example. Going into a restaurant or even a small shop, water will be served to you the moment you sit down. Menu will be given and the highlights will be briefly mentioned. All these was done even though there's no service charge. Over here, some businesses even charge for plain water. Good grief.

This is the kind of good service that people will remember and this in a way encourages customer loyalty. People will want to go back to that shop because they enjoy being serviced by the staff. What consumers want to know is that the business is really concerned on what they want and not just to earn a quick buck.

Do not under-estimate word-of-mouth advertisement. It can make or break a business.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to encourage learning Mandarin? It's the content!

Recently there have been many articles talking about the difficulties of getting Singaporeans to learn Mandarin. Today's papers even mentioned some celebrities that are poor in that subject, stating how boring and dull it is. I believe that this has not changed much since my schooling days.

How to encourage people to learn Mandarin? The first place that one should look at is what draws people to learn other languages. For this, you should look no further than Japan. Currently, there is a Korean craze going on but I believe there are still people who are religiously taking Japanese classes and the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

What drives people to learn Japanese? That's easy to understand. Look at the Japanese variety shows and the ever popular manga and anime and you can understand why. The key factor is that the quality content of these sources drive people to want to understand the language so that they could further understand the content.

That's the key point that educators must understand if they wish to encourage adoption of Mandarin. Some teachers have resorted to using Chinese Pop songs in teaching Mandarin which I feel is a good start. I myself started picking up Chinese because of pop songs. :) However, to drive people to want to learn Chinese, you must have quality content. That means better quality Chinese variety shows and comics. You have to make people want to learn Mandarin and not shove it down people's throats.

Personally, I think 听写 and 默写 is a load of crap. :p It only encourages people to memorize and not to aid in understanding.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Takaosan in Tokyo

Recently came back from a short trip to Tokyo. While I was chit-chatting with my colleagues, I realised that some may have a misconception that since Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the scenery is mostly in urban settings. However, they may have forgotten that Japan is many many times bigger than Singapore. :)

Mount Takao in Tokyo, also known as Takaosan, is quite accessible through the subway (from Shinjuku station). Upon arriving, you'll see a big sign board telling you how big the mountain is. :)

Sign board showing the routes up Takaosan

There are 2 ways up the mountain. One is the old fashion way of walking all the way up and the other, is to use the electric train that goes halfway up the mountain and runs every 15mins. No prizes for guessing which option I took. :)

Below are some photos of the train station where you can take the train up. The train fare is quite obvious from the photos so I leave it to you to read it. :)

Train station to go up the mountain

Area surrounding the train station

Interior of the train station and the train fares sign board.

Upon disembarking from the halfway point, the picture below will be the scenery that greets you. It's quick remarkable that you can find such natural scenery in Tokyo city. I like the way the clouds partially cover some areas. It makes the place mysterious. :)

Scenery from the train station up the mountain

Do you think that's the end? Of course not. You'll still have to climb a bit to reach the summit. Unfortunately, it was raining by the time we arrived and it was a bit difficult to carry an umbrella and take photos at the same time. Oh well...

It was quite refreshing though to walk up the mountain in the rain. :) Below are some random pictures that I took while walking up the mountain.

Some very old tree. 450 years old I think

This was beside the tree. Not sure what it is but it looks interesting. :)

A walkway that was lined with these boards. Couldn't really understand what was written on it.

Something similar to the 10 commandments. How nice if everyone follows it.

Interesting statues

I love taking pictures of autumn leaves. :)

Last part of the walk to the summit.

I specially like the above picture. It makes you feel that you're walking steadily towards an unknown and that at the end of the bright tunnel, something beautiful awaits you.

I was not disappointed.
The interesting part was that while we were up at the summit, the scene that initially greeted us was all white. However after some time, the sky began to clear and I understood why there were so many people at the summit and I do include old folks. We almost missed it if not for the fact that I was preoccupied taking pictures of a pigeon up a tree that was looking curiously at me. :)

The scenery up there is amazing. You could see rows and rows of mountains and one of which is supposedly Mount Fuji. Unfortunately, I did not manage to catch any glimpse though because the sky was still partially cloudy. :(

Below are some of the photos that I took up the summit. If given a chance again, I believe my wife and I may just stay there and make sure that we could see everything. :) For people who likes nature, I highly recommend going up to the summit, provided you are capable of walking up the mountain. The trail can be quite muddy. :)

A tree with pretty autumn leaves

Autumn leaves again. :)

Small sign saying that you have reached the summit.
Note that big white patch you see behind the board

What you see when the sky partially cleared (no more white patch).
Beautiful scenery

Another section of the summit

Trees with autumn leaves surrounding the summit area

Friday, November 20, 2009

Random Pictures around Tokyo

Updated 21 Nov 2009: Added the traditional Japanese wedding photo

Cute photo of an owner walking the cat

Cute photo of a cat wondering why is everyone looking at it

Nice scenery along the way to the subway

Design Fiesta Gallery at Harajuku

Cute display outside a clothings store at Harajuku

Autumn Leaf

Pigeon high up on Takaosan

Traditional Japanese Wedding at Meiji Shrine at Harajuku

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kawaguchiko Scenery

Recently came back from a short trip to Tokyo. Went up to Kawaguchiko initially with the intention to go up to the 5th station of Mt Fuji. However, it was raining that day and the temperature was already around 5 degrees celsius at Kawaguchiko. As such, the plan was abandoned and instead, we took the Retro bus around Kawaguchiko from the Kawaguchiko Station.

There are 2 kinds of fares for the Retro bus. One is the 1000 yen 2 day ticket that allows you to stop and board the bus anytime you want (unlimited travel). The other if I recall correctly is an one-time 500 yen ticket.

Below are pictures of the Kawaguchiko station and the Retro bus.

Kawaguchiko Station

Retro Bus at Kawaguchiko Station

It seems like when its raining, you can't really do much around Kawaguchiko which was really a pity. We ended up buying snacks around the area and taking pictures of the scenery. The autumn leaves are quite beautiful, especially so when it was still drizzling slightly when the photos were taken. Enjoy the photos.

Interesting trains at Kawaguchiko Station

Thomas the tank engine at Kawaguchiko Station

Trees lining up a driveway up a resort

Pretty autumn leaves I

Pretty autumn leaves II

Pretty autumn leaves surrounding the resort

Trees lining up a driveway going into the resort

A section of Kawaguchiko

Odaiba Night Scene

Recently came back from a short trip to Tokyo. Previously, the tour that I was in brought me to Odaiba in the day time. This time however, I managed to have a chance to visit Odaiba at night. I bet you cannot go there at night if you're in a tour. :)

All I can say is that the night scene at Odaiba is more for photobuffs. It was pretty cold as it is approaching winter but the night scene there is quite beautiful. Despite the cold, there are many people snapping away on their cameras. I've also spotted a few photobuffs with tripods taking pictures of the scenery. Unfortunately, I did not have a tripod or a zoom lens with me so I have to make-do with whatever I can find there.

Below are some of the more decent shots that I have. Judging that I have no tripod, I thought I did pretty well. :p

Colorful Odaiba Ferris Wheel (Blue)

Colorful Odaiba Ferris Wheel (Green)

Odaiba Replica of the Statue of Liberty (zoomed-out)

Odaiba Replica of the Statue of Liberty (zoomed-in)

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower and Statue of Liberty

Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower (zoomed-out)

Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower (zoomed-in)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tokyo Food!!

Recently came back from a short trip to Tokyo. As this is a DIY trip, I got a better feel of the cost of food than my previous trip to Hokkaido. You can refer to my previous post here.

Breakfast in general cost about 100 to 200 yen, excluding drinks. Got all of my breakfast from convenience stores situated around the hotel I was staying at. In general if you're an average eater, you can get your lunch and dinner for about 500 to 600 yen. However if you're looking at set meals, the averages I've given in my previous post are quite accurate. For this trip, my lunches and dinners average around 700 to 850 yen, with one exception of 1,460 yen. :)

I've taken a few photos of some of my meals. Feeling hungry? :)

One of my lunch set that I got from shops around my hotel

One of my lunch set that I got from Kawaguchiko station.
The rice is shaped like Mt Fuji. :)

One of my dinner set that I got from Shinjuku.

My ramen lunch at Takaosan. Unique part is I have to pound my own sesame. :)

My 1,460 yen dinner. Omu rice set that comes with a salad that has already disappeared into my stomach and the green juice (melon I think)

One of my lunch set at Ikebukuro. Do you see the egg in the middle of the bowl? :)
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