Sunday, September 26, 2010

Thinking of Okinawa

Just saw Japan Hour and they were playing "Shima Uta" briefly. I've heard this song some time back and it was nice hearing it again. Apparently, my wife said that this song is suited for the guitar. :)

Randomly found one Youtube video below.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Inflation is up 3.3%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2010:
January: 0.2%
February: 1.0%
March: 1.6%
April: 3.2%
May: 3.2%
June: 2.7%
July: 3.1% 
August: 3.3%

Housing and Transport (together with Education & Stationery) are once again leading the pack, rising by 9% and 3.1% respectively year on year. After the Great Singapore Sale effect, Clothing & Footwear inflation is once again in the positive zone.

Judging from the current trend, inflation may be around 2.6% - 2.7% year-on-year. Quite high even though the Singapore Dollar has strengthened by quite a bit. Funny thing is that food inflation is still increasing month on month even though the Singapore Dollar has been strengthening. Food prices going up too fast, or our population going up too fast?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some things to note about the SIA Bond paying 2.15%

I was curious over the SIA Bond paying 2.15%, especially with all that news about it being meant for retail investors and that the bonds will be issued in denominations of $1,000. Well, that's not exactly true when I went to the ATM machine. Some things to take note:
  1. The bond is issued in denominations of $1,000 but the minimum application amount is $10,000.
  2. The bond is unsecured. Using an example, your mortgage loan is secured because if you're unable to pay, the creditor is able to seize the property to pay off the loan.
  3. The bond is unrated.

The bonds are also ranked similar to all and future unsecured loans. The current unsecured loan is $900million, due in December 2011. Interest paid for that loan? 4.15%.

Frankly, at a rate of 2.15%, I thought it was secured against some sort of securities. Apparently it is not. Good deal? Bad deal? You decide.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Why is it worth looking at the Minimum Wage from a different perspective?

    Singapore has so far refused to entertain the thought of enacting a Minimum Wage law because I believe they are worried that they will lose their competitiveness. If you look at it from an angle, it is true. How do you gauge the worth of a certain job? How do you determine the wage for a job scope and how you get people to agree with you that the wage is the minimum? Manual labour? Mental labour?

    All the above and maybe much more will come into mind when you think of enacting a Minimum Wage law. However, your viewpoint will start to change once your objective is much clearer. What's the ultimate objective of enacting a Minimum Wage law? It's to survive in Singapore and minimise expoitation. If you look at it from the objective perspective, you will find that you won't ask the above questions. You will ask a set of different questions. How many meals a person need to eat daily? How much is a meal? Cost of accommodation? Cost of Transport? I believe the numbers here are much more factual than determining the wage for a certain job scope and I believe the numbers are available.

    To add some icing on the cake, Singapore need not enact the Minimum Wage law. They can just issue guidelines on the Minimum Wage. The reason is quite simple. If you look at the objective, it's to determine the minimum wage needed to survive in Singapore. Therefore, it should be up to the employers to determine the job scope needed in order to justify hiring that person. Give a constant and the variables should add up.

    I believe Singaporeans are not stupid. If a company is paying below the minimum wage, they should be smart enough to see if it's justifiable. There may be certain business cases that justify paying below the minimum wage. If they are over-exploited, they can always find another job. This will bring some power back to the employees and prevent employers from exploiting their workers. The guidelines give employees a choice too because they have a choice in the jobs that they wish to take.

    The guidelines should be widely available for anyone to obtain so that everyone knows about it. Fix a certain period where it will be reviewed so the employers have some lead time to plan for the a wage hike if they know that the inflation is high for that year. The fact that the guidelines are widely available (even to foreign workers) will pressure the employers to at least justify the cost if it is below the minimum wage.

    Implementable? No idea. I'm not a politician, but I like to daydream. :)

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Failure of a memory card in a SAN can cause so much havoc?

    On Aug 25, the failure of a storage area network (SAN) caused Web site outages at 26 of Virginia Information Technologies Agency's (VITA) 83 state agencies. The EMC SAN malfunction has been blamed on a memory card failure. A backup SAN that was supposed to act as a fail-over system then also experienced problems, according to published reports. As of end Aug 2010, all but three agency sites had been restored, leaving the commonwealth's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Department of Taxation and the state Board of Elections without services.

    So the question is how did this happen? The database for the critical systems should have DR mechanisms in place to assist in restoration of the databases. The weird part is that a single memory card failure caused so many systems to fail. Where is the redundancy and fail-over?

    I've no internal knowledge of the database design but it seems to me that the databases are designed incorrectly.

    It's not wrong to have a central database that is accessed by the organisation. However, the database files should be kept in different disk arrays. Translated. If your organisation's central database has 5 different systems connected to it, the database files should be stored in 5 different disk arrays. This is to prevent the failure of one array to down the whole organisation's systems.

    Using the above example, a single memory card failure would have only down 1 system. Therefore, I'm surprised that it managed to disrupt all the systems. To me, that seems to be a database design failure. Either all the different tables were created in 1 database file or that the different database files were stored into 1 disk array. The failure of that disk array resulted in a big nightmare.

    SAN storage do promise much in terms of redundancy,availability, resiliency and maintainability but as a technology person, I will not rely totally on it. A system must be built to cater for this kind of disaster recovery and they should not overly rely on the storage tier for the disaster recovery. For example, up to now I'm a little hesitant on the Virtual Tape Library (VTL) technology for the simple fact that it uses hard disks. There is a certain lifespan attached to each hard disk in terms of the number of times it can be written. How can I be assured that the hard disk will work when required? How can I be assured that when the backup is being done on the VTL, the source/target is not corrupted in the first place, causing my backup to be rendered useless. Of course tape will also fail in some point in time but that's like 15 to 20 years. By that time, I should have no need of that data.

    Maybe it's my job to be skeptical but knowing technology, I know of too many instances where things will fail. The application design itself should cater for disaster recovery and contrary to opinion, the installation of the application server and database are important.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Why are you angry?

    I quote from Gautama Buddha:

    Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

    Whenever you're angry with someone, take a moment and think about this sentence. Are you hurting yourself for the sake of getting angry with someone? Is it necessary? Will there be an outcome or you're doing it just to spite the other person?

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

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Restrictions for Naked Short Sellers

    I fully agree with the recent directives by the European Commission to safeguard the Europe financial markets. Frequent traders of some OTC derivatives in Europe will have to use central clearinghouses to close sales, while naked short-sellers would be required to submit proof they can access the underlying security to settle a trade designed to profit from falling prices. There is no mention of the penalty though if they are caught breaking the rules. I assume they are fined many times of the total cost of their transaction. The penalty must be high enough so that people will think twice before doing naked shorts.

    I especially agree with the ruling on the naked short-sellers because they distort the market. Short sellers borrow assets and sell them, betting the price will fall, buying them later and pocketing the difference. In naked short-selling, traders never borrow the assets, so betting is unlimited. If your betting is unlimited, your demand and supply in short, screws up. How would the price of the asset reflect true demand?

    The only disappointment is that this only applies to Europe. This should be the standard rule for the world financial markets.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    2FA is a much better security mechanism

    I do not understand why the security guys have an obsession with super long passwords that make no sense at all. If you're looking at it from the technical point of view, it makes sense as such super long passwords will delay the hackers from cracking the passwords. The key word is delay.

    The better solution would be to use 2 factor authentication. The 2nd factor authentication is usually a random number that a person receive through a device or through SMS. This randomness in the user authentication is a far better security option that creating long passwords with those weird requirements such as a Capital letter, numbers, etc.

    We all know how users remember those super long hard to remember passwords. Which one is a bigger security threat?

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Risk is part of parcel of life

    I quote from William Shedd:

    A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.

    In whatever we do, risks are always existent. The moment we wake up to the moment we sleep. The point is whether the risk is acceptable to you and to the situation you are currently in. Everyone's risk tolerance is different and you'll need to find the amount of risk that you and/or your family is willing to accept.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Cellular Data Bug in iOS v4.1

    I've just upgraded to iOS v4.1 and unfortunately, I've found a bug in less than half an hour. Not everyone will encounter the bug though. I have a habit of turning off my Cellular Data unless I need to use data. This has been working since iOS v4. However, after tapping the Cellular Data on (non-3G) after I've upgraded to iOS v4.1, I am unable to get an Internet connection even though the iPhone indicated that I'm connected to the data network.

    There are only 2 ways that I know to resolve this. One way is to enable the 3G. The Cellular Data will work even after disabling the 3G. The other way is to tap on and off the Data Roaming under Settings > General > Network. Somehow it works after that.

    Hope they resolve this bug in iOS v4.2.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Apple has finally released the AppStore Guidelines

    After so much hoo ha over Apple's very vague guidelines on what applications are permitted in the AppStore, they have finally released the AppStore Review Guidelines. Note that they are guidelines although they are quite comprehensive, and it is stated the guidelines are living. Translated, it can change depending on circumstances. You can refer to the Apple's link here. Do note that only Apple Developers are able to see the guidelines.

    The guidelines are split into the following categories as of today:
    • Functionality
    • Metadata, ratings and rankings
    • Location
    • Push notifications
    • Game Center
    • iAds
    • Trademarks and trade dress
    • Media content
    • User interface
    • Purchasing and currencies
    • Scraping and aggregation
    • Damage to device
    • Personal attacks
    • Violence
    • Objectionable content
    • Privacy
    • Pornography
    • Religion, culture, and ethnicity
    • Contests, sweepstakes, lotteries, and raffles
    • Charities and contributions
    • Legal requirements

    They have also revised the agreement and they now allow third-party converters (e.g. Adobe) to create AppStore Apps, subjected to conformance to the guidelines of course. Maybe we'll see more interesting apps in the AppStore soon. Judging from the reaction by Adobe, I think it'll be quite soon that CS5 will have the functionality to convert Flash programs to AppStore Apps.

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

      Why is Dell still pushing products out based on Android 1.5??

      I find it extremely weird that Dell will release Dell Aero smartphone based on the Android v1.5. Mind you that they released Aero recently in Aug 2010, when Android v2.2 is already out.

      It's widely known ( I even thought it's common knowledge) that the reason for releasing products with the latest software/firmware because it usually contains:
      1. Bug fixes
      2. New features
      3. Security fixes

      By releasing an old version of Android, aren't they endangering the users of the smartphone? What happens if someone exploited a security vulnerability based on the older version? Furthermore, based on what I heard as of now, upgrading Android OS is not that straightforward and loss of data seems to be quite normal, unlike the iPhone.

      So what's the reason for releasing Aero on Android v1.5? Bloatware issue? I'm afraid only Dell can answer this question.

      Wednesday, September 8, 2010

      Why is IT failure always the IT's fault?

      I don't really understand why people think that when an IT project fails, it's always the fault of the IT vendors. Based on what I've seen all these years, it always take 2 people to clap.

      There are of course instances where it's the vendors' fault. Some common problems that come to mind are:
      1. Poor programming practices and architecture design
      2. Inability to understand the requirements
      3. Inability of the vendors to translate the requirements to application functions and conveying this to the customer.

      However, there are also possibilities where the customers' actions caused the project to fail. Some of the common problems are:
      1. Not knowing what they want, and thinking that IT can do anything
      2. Changing their minds frequently that results in frequent changes to the system design
      3. No support from higher management

      Building an application is no different from building any physical device. Just imagine that you're renovating your house and you requested your contractor to build a customised study table cum bed. You agree on the blueprint and materials(translated: requirements, functional and design specifications) but halfway through, you find that it is not what you expect. You request the contractor to change the specifications and for some reason, the cycle continues. Do you think such a table will turn out nicely designed, useful and sturdy? I think not. Building an application is similar.

      On the vendors' side, you'll need people who are able to gather and translate requirements to an application function and on the customers' side, you'll need people who are able to understand the IT side of things and explain that systems cannot do anything and everything. Business operations and processes always drive the IT, not the other way around.

      Therefore, I personally think that in a project failure, both sides need to take responsibility. Remember the 3 constraints of any project: Scope, Cost and Schedule = Quality. The 3 points, Scope, Cost and Schedule forms a triangle. Any changes to any sides of the triangle will cause the quality to change.

      This will never change for any project, regardless of how important or how insignificant your project is.

      Tuesday, September 7, 2010

      Finding Yourself

      I quote from Thomas Szasz, "Personal Conduct":

      People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.

      Don't expect things to be handed to you on a silver platter. Things are never easy.

      Monday, September 6, 2010

      We complain too much?

      Seriously, I don't think we complained too much about the overcrowded MRT and car parks simply because there is always a reason why the "uproar" occurred in the first place.

      Did many people complain about the MRT when the overcrowding first started? Not really. Overcrowded MRTs during peak hours are a fixture for a very long time. Most of us take it because it's normal. However, the problem came when someone said that the train is not overcrowded and try to push out statistics to prove it. That was the breaking point. Anyone who takes the MRT knows for the fact that it is overcrowded. By insisting there isn't such a problem means that the person does not even know what's happening on the ground! How would you feel if you face a problem day in day out and someone comes up to you and say, "What problem?"?

      I do not have any personal experience in overcrowded car parks but from what I heard, it happened after the COE prices dropped to an average of $10,000. Just imagine that you have a car and you've purchased your season parking slot for the nearby car park. You're coming back home after a long day at work and upon reaching the car park, there are no parking lots available for you. Worst still, all the nearest car parks are all occupied and you know that the "friendly" auntie will not care that you couldn't find a space to park. By the way, it's not easy to get a season parking slot too in some of the estates?

      Do we complain too much? Or the "service" that we're getting is not in line? I rest my case.

      Friday, September 3, 2010

      The true value of an invention is its usefulness to the public

      I quote from Andrew Grove:

      "The true value of an invention is its usefulness to the public," he said, quoting Thomas Jefferson. The system in place in the Valley today is moving further and further away from this principle, he added. "Patents themselves have become products. They're instruments of investment traded on a separate market, often by speculators motivated by the highest financial return on their investment." 

      Grove called this a break from past practice. "The most important invention of our industry, the invention of the transistor, was licensed by AT&T for $25,000," he said. "This allowed the transistor industry to develop and become a flourishing manufacturing industry in the United States." Grove continued: "By the time the integrated circuit arrived, the industry largely operated by cross licensing between companies so it really didn't matter, if the (Robert) Noyce patent or (Jack) Kilby patent prevailed--the result was the two companies could go on do their work." 

      Not today, in his eyes. "The patent product brings financial derivatives to mind," he said. "Derivatives have a complex relationship with an underlying asset. While there's nothing wrong with them in principle, their unfettered use has damaged the financial services industry and possibly the entire economy.

      "Do these patent instruments put us on a similar road?" he asked. "I fear our patent system increasingly serves those who invest in the patent products... It may be time to use Jefferson's principle as a test and ask if we meet it."

      That is one of the main reasons why I think patents are a waste of time. The true value of an invention is its usefulness to the public. All those patent troll companies that are formed just to milk the royalties out of other innovative companies are in fact restricting innovation. If you allow easy access for others to build on top of each other's technology, you'll see more interesting technologies now.

      Thursday, September 2, 2010

      iOS v4.1 Features

      There was an update to the iOS v4.1 in yesterday Apple's event. Seems like they will fix the following bugs:
      1. Proximity Sensors issues on the iPhone 4
      2. Bluetooth connectivity issues
      3. iPhone 3G performance issues

      They will also add some new features in iOS v4.1:
      1. Game Center
      2. iTunes TV show rentals
      3. iTunes Ping (Apple's social networking)
      4. HDR Photography for iPhone 4
      5. HD Video Uploads to YouTube and MobileMe for iPhone 4

      That's one advantage about getting the iPhone. You'll get new features free of charge every now and then. :)

      iOS v4.1 is suppose to be released some time next week. No exact dates were given though. You can refer to the features of the iOS v4.1 here.

      Wednesday, September 1, 2010

      The days of printer drivers will be over?

      Back in April, I actually mentioned here that the acquisition of WebOS by HP would usher in a new way of printing. I didn't realised that I was dead right.

      The new platform by HP, called ePrint, allows users to print from any device to a Web-enabled printer using e-mail. Each printer gets its own unique e-mail address, and designated users can use their smartphone, tablet or laptop to print remotely--no drivers necessary.

      The days of installing printer drivers will be over and I will have no problems printing anything from any device. Yes, I'm talking about the iPad and iPod too.

      Anyway, HP intends to have this for the cloud and it really does make sense. How else can you print documents from the cloud? E-mail will be the easiest. I am assuming of course that the printer recognises SSL enabled emails. Standard security concerns?

      Since I actually mentioned this idea (except for the cloud portion) way back in April, I wonder if they copied the idea from me? :)
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