Monday, May 31, 2010

The Problem with IT: People think its simple

After some discussion with a few friends, I have reached the conclusion on why there's a problem plaguing the IT industry here. The problem is that people in general think that IT is simple.

I need a website. Fire up Microsoft Word and save it as HTML. Cheap right? By the way, add in some dynamic content while you're at it. Database? What's that? I just want a static website with some portions that is dynamic. Oh yes, before I forget, I want some fancy graphics that will jump out at you whenever I mouse-over a certain area. Flash? What's that?

Does that sound familiar? The problem with IT in Singapore is that most users here are IT literate and as a result, some of them may think that they know a bit more. The fact is that even for a simple website, if you or the person assisting you is not trained in IT, it's most probably going to crash and burn unless you're on a subscription basis. Why? Have you heard of these 3 terms:
  • Cross browser scripting
  • SQL injection
  • GET and POST

These are just some of the common areas you need to take note when you're building a website, some of which are security concerns. That means that through the above means, someone could actually hack into your website.Without some training and experience behind your belt, you'll probably not know what these terms mean.

IT solutioning is something that is quite complex and I doubt anyone can say that they know everything about it. There are many different ways to build a website and the flashiest doesn't mean that it will resolve your business needs. Translated, the current technology craze might not suit your business operations.

If you're interested, the example which I quoted above will require at the very least the following:
  • Setting up of Web, Application and Database Servers
  • Server hosting provider
  • Bandwidth provider
  • Domain Name Service
  • SSL (if there's login)
  • Flash
  • Website viewable in what browsers on what platforms?
  • Development of HTML
  • Development of an application language (e.g. PHP, Java, .Net)
Oh by the way, do you know that not all IT graduates know how to manage all the above?

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Coincidences of Train Issues??

Is it a coincidence that out of the 2 train service providers in Singapore, only SMRT
  1. has problems with their train doors opening mysteriously by themselves;
  2. has problems with regulating the air-con of their trains (sometimes being very stuffy);
  3. has problems with telco reception in their tunnels (except Circle Line);
  4. has problems with irregular train schedule (granted that NEL is fully automated); and
  5. thinks that we have bionic eyes and only cater one LCD screen per platform to display the train arrival?

It certainly seems so. In fact, I think SMRT is more interested in opening retail shops in the MRT stations then improving their service levels for their bread and butter, train service.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Discontinue the 8GB iPhone 3G? Of course

It seems like the 8GB iPhone 3G is no longer on sale at the Apple website. Is this a surprise? Of course not. Way back in this post in 2009, I have already predicted that Apple would use the previous generation of the iPhone as the low cost model, which happened in the launch of the iPhone 3GS.

Therefore going with this trend, the iPhone 3GS 16GB will take over the current low-cost iPhone 3G 8G, and it's highly likely that there will be an iPhone 4G 32GB and iPhone 4G 64GB.

We'll see next month.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Applications, Desktop, Server and Infrastructure Virtualisation

Virtualisation has been the recent buzz word but few people know that there are actually different types of virtualisation.

The 4 different types are:
  • Application virtualisation is where you can run any application you need, regardless if it is compatible with your current device. You may be running IE8 on your Mac, or running IE8 with flash on your iPad.
  • Desktop virtualisation is as if you're running 2 different computers on a single device. You may be running Windows 7 on OS X. It is quite similar to the remote desktop connection technology.
  • Server virtualisation is where you have a pool of server resources which you could allocate to different IT systems. For example, you may have 2 2-core processors blade servers, running 4 different types of application servers that are logically separated through the virtualisation technology.
  • Infrastructure virtualisation is a technology that is pretty new. If you're familiar with infrastructure configuration, you'll know the pain of allocation of IP addresses, MAC addresses and LUN connections when you're provisioning for new servers. This information can now be moved across servers with a click of a button, thereby allowing you to bring up your backup servers quickly if your primary servers fail, without your users even realising that there is something wrong.

Combine it all together and your IT systems can just about handle any business opportunities that come along, with high availability. Your applications can be quickly provisioned and you can easily scale up or out your applications requirements with a click of the button. It's no more a dream, but I doubt business users really understand the power of such technology.

Just imagine you are launching a new campaign that runs at a certain time annually and your users only use a particular application during that time. All you need to do is to automate the re-activatation of that application system at that time period, setup triggers to increase your resources if the utilisation hits a certain threshold, and you're ready to go. No users will complain about slowness of the application (provided you have already done all your IT design checks on the application) and the application will not crash due to the high availability setup.

Why are people not jumping into this technology immediately? Costs of course. Good stuff does not come cheap. That's always the rule of thumb. Business operations may have also not reached the stage which such high availability and turnaround time are needed.

Virtualisation is a long term investment and one must look further than the current issues facing the organisation. Sooner or later, turnaround time for your business operations will become important. It'll be interesting to see how the technology will develop further.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Releasing more reserve sites may not lower the cost for buyers

Recently the government has released 18 confirmed sites and 13 reserve sites for the 2H2010. The 18 Confirmed List sites comprise 15 residential sites [including 5 Executive Condominium (EC) sites], 2 commercial & residential sites and 1 white site (any development). The 13 Reserve List sites comprise 12 residential sites and 1 commercial & residential site. People say that this sudden release of so many sites will result in a lowering of property prices. In my opinion, this may not be true.

Using an analogy, if you've always been bidding $x for a pencil (for example), will you bid any lesser if the number of pencils increase? Note that most developments are funded by bank loans. If the banks are willing to loan them that amount, then the number of sites that are released does not matter because the companies will just bid around the same price psf as they will not know if the others will lower their bids.

What will really tame the property prices has nothing to do with the release of land. It's to regulate the banks. I'm sure most Singaporeans are familiar with the CPF's Housing Withdrawal Limit. From 2008, the CPF Withdrawal Limit for Housing is 120% of valuation. Why can't this (or something similar) be implemented for property development loans?

By putting a cap on the amount that the banks can loan out for property development, we're forcing the developers to re-think on their finances when they are making such bids. This will also prevent cases where the developers fold halfway through the property development due to cashflow problems. This cap will also force the developers to re-think on how to value-add to the property development (e.g.. green features, nicer finishing) in order to secure the bid. I believe this is also known as the "beauty contest".

Who benefits? The buyers of course.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Inflation is up 3.2%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2010:
January: 0.2%
February: 1.0%
March: 1.6%
April: 3.2%

Surprisingly, Housing costs have spiked up for April and for this month, Transport and Housing are leading the pack, rising by 13.4% and 2.9% respectively year on year. As expected, inflation doubled as compared to last month, mainly due to the increase in Transport prices. The volcanic problem may have also caused inflation to rise across the different categories, with the exception of Communication (-4.1%).

Moving forward, the inflation for May should be slightly lower than April since the volcanic issue has subsided. The Europe crisis may have a negative impact on inflation too.

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Don't try to be perfect

I quote from Henry van Dyke:

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.

If you're always waiting for the perfect outcome / moment, you may have realised that the original aim may have changed by the time you have achieved your perfect outcome / moment. That is why perfectionism can be a moving target.

Prioritise your objectives and make sure time is in the equation. In my opinion, that's the only way to get things moving. Remember... Perfection is also subjective.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Respect Others

I quote from Justice Warren E. Burger:

There can be no assumption that today’s majority is "right" and the Amish or others like them are "wrong". A way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no right or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different.

Never conclude that things have to be done in a certain way just because it has all along been that way. Innovation occurs when you find solutions to problems, no matter how odd it is. Remember that odd is subjective.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Into the mind of the product inventors

There has always been a lot of debate on why Apple is a closed system and why Apple is restricting companies from riding on top of their flagship products. On the other end, you have of course Google with their open-source technologies.

I don't deny that open-source is good for the industry as a whole because it encourages innovation. You build on top of what's already been created. You do not need to start from scratch and thus, you can achieve innovative products faster than a closed patent system where you're highly dependent on the company that patented the product. That is of course provided that company is not a patent troll. To date, I still prefer Java over .Net.

I would like to give my take on why Apple chose to make their products a closed system. I really admire Steve Jobs guts because he firmly believes that the products he envisioned is what that will bring us to the next level. He builds products for a specific purpose and as a result, his products are a hit. You'll never think of playing Solitaire on an iPod Nano. Instead, you'll get the iPod Touch.

Why are Apple products a closed system? The reason (in my opinion) is very simple. To provide the best experience to the customer for that particular function. To achieve that experience, you'll need to maintain control over every aspect of the product so that you can always fine-tune and tweak it according to the vision that you have.

"Too many cooks spoil the broth". You'll only need one master chef to make the decision. The more people that are involved in a decision making process, the longer it drags because everyone thinks that their viewpoints are the only way forward. The worst possible scenario is that to please everyone, everyone's viewpoints are incorporated into the next generation of the product. The product will most probably lose its shine because the focus has been lost. The Android fragmentation is one good example. Can it be resolved? Personally, I don't think so. Why is Nokia unable to bring forward a product to rival the iPhone for 3 years?

Opponents will of course say that customers are always right. That's something that I personally don't believe in. The reason is also very simple. When you buy a product, you're admitting that someone is providing a service/function that you cannot provide. Therefore, how can a customer be always right when you are not even in the position to provide that service/function? One can always argue that the product doesn't address your needs. Then the question to that customer is that are you looking at the right product to resolve your problem? Most probably, you're not.

When I create a product, I will always have in mind what problem it's meant to resolve. A product always addresses specific issues. If you don't have that focus in mind, your product will not stand out. It'll be worse if you add in many people's viewpoints and ideas. That's also the main reason why some bosses setup multiple companies addressing different needs. They understand this concept of specialisation.

This closed system has its disadvantages too. You're totally reliant on the product inventor and the inventor has to ensure that the products still achieve the general vision that the company has. I admire people who dare to stand up to everyone and say that this is what you need to resolve the problem(s) that you're having and this is how you do it.

And guess what? They may be right because you're stuck with the problem and they don't seem to have any.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Does Cloud Computing and Social Media applications clash?

Something struck me today on the topic of cloud computing. Everyone, at least in the tech world, has been saying that cloud computing is the next big thing. However, so is social media and social networking. The upcoming trend for businesses is to use social media and social networking to conduct their business operations.

Cloud computing was recommended as the infrastructure can be easily scaled up or down when required. Costs aside, I believe one important point was forgotten: Video. The social media generation puts a lot of emphasis on visuals and increasingly businesses are using visuals and videos to conduct their business operations.

To the end users, it's just streaming video but for the content providers, you'll need to upload this content into your servers. How will you be able to do this if you are hosting it at a cloud computing environment? If you have structured your in-house architecture such that your users upload the content through the Intranet, and only certain areas of your network is exposed to the Internet, your users will be able to upload content quickly and more efficiently than to upload it through your office's broadband and present it to their end-users.

If you're subscribing to cloud computing, not only will you have to wait for your videos to be uploaded using your office bandwidth, you will also choke up the bandwidth allocation and cause the broadband speed to slow down for the whole office.

This is one problem that I've yet to think of a solution, other than a dedicated leased line from the office to the cloud computing vendor which will drive up costs dramatically. That is provided the vendor actually allows you to have the leased line connected to their architecture setup.

Killer app for cloud computing? None that I can think of yet because to the end-users, they don't really see any benefits. I guess that's the main problem, coupled with the fact that it's pricing scheme is not as transparent as the telcos.

Cloud computing still has some ways to go.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Seek out other viewpoints

I quote from Barack Obama:

For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country.

But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.

Now, this requires us to agree on a certain set of facts to debate from. That’s why we need a vibrant and thriving news business that is separate from opinion makers and talking heads. That’s why we need an educated citizenry that values hard evidence and not just assertion. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously once said, “Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. It is essential for our democracy.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Cyclists should go out in groups

It has been some time since I have cycled on the roads. However the impression I have in my mind is still quite fresh. That's because regardless if it is day or night, the fact is that cycling on Singapore roads is dangerous.

Like it or not, there is no such thing as a safe cyclist. Reason is because safety is never in our control. Like what the older folks like to say, it's 肉包铁. No matter how safety conscious you are, you cannot prevent a car from kissing your backside or e-braking in front of you. The only difference between a cyclist and a vehicle driver is that this kind of situations usually result in serious injuries for the cyclist, no matter what protective gear we are wearing.

My only advice I can give other than the usual advice is to always cycle in groups. Never cycle alone as cars tend to bully lone cyclists. When you are riding in groups, ensure that the group rides in a convoy formation. Vehicles will less likely cut into your lane if you keep that formation.

Oh yes. Avoid buses, heavy vehicles and taxis. Back in my time, they are always the ones that tend to bully cyclists.

Ride safely and please ride in groups as you will be more visible to the other road users.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

People Defines the Organisation, and Yet Replaceable?

The attitudes of the people within organisations defines what they are and the services or products that they produce. The type of people within the organisation makes the difference between an average business or a successful business.

Therefore I find it a big irony that in some companies, employees are told that they are replaceable. Doesn't that create a conflict? People defines the organisation and yet replaceable?

Personally, I believe that defined business processes and procedures can only ensure that your business will continue to function when people go. However the people are the differentiating factor. Can rules and processes ignite passion for the job? Can they teach a person to be versatile and adapt to different situations?

Some bosses here use this excuse that people are replaceable to overwork their current employees. With high mortgages and cost of living, normal employees can do little to fight back. Not all businesses treat their workers fairly becase there are no rules or laws to govern this area.

Today there was an article talking about wages in Singapore. Frankly, just look the level of domestic consumption here by Singapore citizens and you will know whether we are increasingly being priced out of our own country. Countries around the world have learned from the crisis and are taking steps to increase the domestic consumption level.

Will Singapore learn that it's the citizens that define what Singapore is?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Quickly Clear your Temporary Directory Folder

The temporary directory is a place where some applications use for storage of temporary files when it is being executed. The good applications will clear itself after exit but most of the applications don't. Therefore, the temporary directory actually takes up quite a bit of valuable space in your hard disk. There is a quick and easy way to quickly clear your temporary directory folder.

To quickly access your temporary directory, just do the following:
  1. Click on Start > Run
  2. Type %temp% and hit Enter

That's it. The temporary directory folder will open and you can delete most / all of the files within it. Do note that if the temporary file is currently being accessed by some application, you'll not be able to delete it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bandwidth connection is just one of the problems with cloud computing

I was just reading an article about some of the problems that people have encountered while implementing cloud computing. One of the problems that hit me is the issue on bandwidth.

The problem is actually quite simple. User experience with accessing the cloud computing resource will differ depending on where you're accessing it. However, the point is that the problem is so simple that I've forgotten all about it.

Just imagine that you're hosting a certain web service in the cloud. You have offices all over the world that are accessing this service. When someone complains that the web service is inaccessible, how would the IT people know if it's the cloud computing vendor's problem, the ISP problem, or the user's infrastructure/desktop environment problem. Add in the fact that you may not even be physically with the user to troubleshoot the problem.

The simple fact is that cloud computing is a shared resource that is placed in the Internet. Different types of infrastructure will route packets differently when accessing the resource in the cloud. I have even encountered problems where users from different floors in the building can have different user experience in accessing a certain resource.Put that problem in the cloud perspective and think of the helpdesk problem that will certainly occur at some point in time.

You have to be ready to manage all the different vendors that are being engaged and must be fully aware on how the cloud is architected and connected to your organisation. Ensure that you have the capability to pinpoint the exact issue in the whole overall architecture so that you can isolate the problem.

Not a good idea to go in blind. User experience is also one of the points that you have to sell to the user. It's difficult to sell cloud computing to a user that complains that the cloud computing resource takes forever to load.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Live your life as you would like to

I quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine'.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why authorities should rein in Mickey Mouse flats

I think the authorities should focus on the "Mickey Mouse" flats that are increasingly popular in Singapore. "Mickey Mouse" flats by Singapore definition are flats that are no bigger than 800 sq ft. And no, I'm not talking specifically to the URA.

Mickey mouse flats less than 500 sq ft are typically one bedder apartments while those that are slightly bigger are 2 bedders. For 2 bedders, one will typically be the bedroom and the other, the study room. Wait... Do you see something out of the ordinary? No room for the children?

That's the upcoming trend in Singapore. Many hope to own their dream house (non-HDB) and will go to great lengths to obtain one. Just imagine if you spend almost a million dollars on a 2 bedder apartment, will you even think of having kids on top of repaying your mortgage? I leave it to you to answer that.

Why are developers increasingly building smaller flats? Profit of course. Is $600,000 for private housing cheap? What happens if I rephrase that to $1,200 psf for a 500 sq ft apartment? Now is that cheap? I think you get the drift. 

Many things are inter-connected to the decline in birth rate. Stress levels, cost of giving birth, living expenses and housing are just one of the few inter-connected areas and many of which are recurrent costs. If someone makes a big investment in a 1 bedder/2 bedder apartment, I can bet you that they have absolutely no intention of having a kid and most likely, they will have no means to even support a kid. Therefore, the authorities should be too fixated on a certain area but to look at the surrounding factors that contribute to this birth-rate problem. Who says housing has nothing to do with the decline in birth rate?

Do we want the profit-driven "market" to decide the increase/decline in birth rate?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

International Launch Date of iPad set. Singapore is in the list!

Latest news is that the international launch date of the iPad has finally been set!

The first wave, set on May 28, will hit nine countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The second wave, set on some time in July, will be in the following locations: Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore.

Yes. Singapore is finally in the list, although it'll be some time in July. I wonder if it's because of the micro-SIM card requirement for the iPad 3G.

Friday, May 7, 2010

MediaCorp has changed their streaming URLs

The news was out that all Mediacorp radio stations can now be streamed from the Internet. However, those who are accessing the Internet stream previously using devices like the iPhone will find that the radio stations are suddenly inaccessible.

The reason is because MediaCorp has at the same time changed all their streaming URLs. I have updated all the URLs in my previous post here. Just update the URLs and you'll be able to listen to Mediacorp radios from devices like your iPhone. I still like FStream the best. Mediacorp has lower their bitstreams and now, I am even able to stream the radio stations using EDGE instead of 3G. :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Run any application with a maximized window

Just realised that there is a quick and easy way to run any application on a maximized screen automatically upon execution. You just need to:
  1. Right-click on the application icon and click on Properties
  2. Under the Run field, select Maximized
  3. Click on OK

That's it. The application will launch in a maximized window. Conversely, you can also run an application in a minimized window.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Minimum wage System will lead to increase of illegal immigrants?

Some time back, I read an article that states that a minimum wage system will lead to an increase of illegal immigrants. Frankly, illegal immigrants will want to come in whether there is a minimum wage or not. Based on a per capita basis, we already have an un-declared minimum wage and that's why there will always be people trying to sneak their way in. The wages they earn here is already much more than back in their home countries. In short, illegal immigrants will come regardless if there is a minimum wage system. Note the word illegal. Enough said.

In my opinion, a minimum wage system is discouraged because it
  1. is difficult to enforce;
  2. is difficult to set the minimum wage; and
  3. alienates inexperience/unskilled workers.

Just imagine the amount of manpower needed to enforce the number of employees that a company has. How about contract workers? Shift workers? Enforcement will be an inconvenience to any business and a manpower nightmare.

Who will be able to convince everyone that the minimum wage is $x and not $y? Where do you get the number from? Will your wage be a leading or lagging indicator? Will we end up like Greece? Just plucking the number out will be a challenge by itself. Will the bosses think that the minimum wage is fair for the amount of work that needs to be done?

Alienating inexperienced/unskilled workers is one area that I felt will be a logical outcome. Relating to the previous point, setting a minimum wage says nothing about the job scope. Who is it to determine that the minimum wage fits all kind of job scopes? It's nearly impossible to determine that.$x equates to this amount of work done. End up, all the bosses will have their own idea of the amount of work needed for it to make sense to hire anyone, thereby alienating the more inexperienced/unskilled workers. This will lead to many other negative side effects as these workers will not be able to find any work at all.

It's easy to say to setup a minimum wage system but to set up a sustainable system for generations to come, I believe that we're still some way off from there.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Don't be too picky

I quote from Don Knuth:

If you optimize everything, you will always be unhappy.

Remember the 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto's Principle. Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Don't be too picky.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

0.5% in Sept 2010, 0.5% in Mar 2011, BUT ...

It was announced that CPF contribution rates will be up from 14.5% to 15.5% from March 2011 onwards. The first 0.5% increase will be implemented on 1 September 2010 this year, and will be paid into the Medisave Account; the remaining 0.5% increase will be effective later on 1 March 2011, and will be paid into the Special Account. You can refer to the details here.

Seen it yet? Yup... Nothing into the CPF Ordinary account. This increase is solely targeted for medical and retirement needs. Doesn't affect me in any way but for those who speculated about the 1% increase in CPF, I think they'll find that they bet on the wrong horse.

It'll be an interesting Monday. :)
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