Friday, August 31, 2012

Recognise your own limited experience

I quote from Annie Besant:
Refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd. 

Recognise your own limitations and listen to advice when your knowledge is insufficient to make an informed decision. Egos will only get into your way and prevent you from reaching your objective.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Solution to Frankenstein Virus

Viruses are now getting more sophisticated largely in part due to the quest for efficiency in coding on various operating systems platforms. The latest trend is the emergence of the Frankenstein virus, a virus that builds itself out of pieces your computer knows to be safe (e.g. bits of applications like your word processor, image editor or Web browser).

This will increasingly cause more danger to any computer user because the payload itself may not register as a virus simply because it does not contain any code that is registered to do harm to your computer. In fact, what the payload will do is just to scan your computer for the other bits of application, build up the application on the fly, and commence its hidden agenda. Dangerous? You bet.

However, the fact is that if operating systems prevent dynamic loading of other application codes on the fly, this will become a non-issue. The problem arose because of the quest for efficiency. Re-usability of codes and loading of libraries as and when needed for efficiency memory management has resulted in this unintentional side effects.

There are a couple of ways to resolve this problem though, one of which Apple has already initiated. The AppStore. This solution does not prevent the malware from happening but the simple fact is that you need to be properly registered with an entity before you can distribute your apps in the AppStore. Therefore, if you have purposely distributed a malware/virus through the AppStore, rest assured that the police will be able to find you because your particulars are registered with the entity in charge of the AppStore.

A simple act of code signing will also help reduce the possibility of viruses being installed on to your machine. For those who have registered for a SSL certificate, you will know that there are some verification steps that are needed before you can register an SSL certificate. These verification steps will be able to uniquely identify you if required. Therefore, just by extending the SSL certificate a little further by  requiring codes to be signed by something similar to a SSL certifcate, will further enhance the security of an app as developers know that there is a possibility that they can be traced back if they have knowingly put a malware or virus into their programs.

The beauty of extending the SSL certificate process to developing applications is that there is already an existing system in place to identify whether an SSL certificate has been signed by a root authority, who will in-turn ensure that the SSL certificate is issued to a valid entity that can be traced back if necessary.

The above 2 ways do not eliminate the malware / virus problem, but it will give pause to these writers because they know that there will be a way to trace them if they try to do anything funny. However, there will be a side-effect if this kind of protection is in place. Cost of software will go up.

Like it or not, this is a service provided and people need to eat.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why can't SingPost call ahead before delivering?

I do not quite understand the concept of Singpost registered post delivery. For normal posts delivery, the letter can be deposited into a letterbox so that we will be able to pick it up when the family comes back from work. For registered posts however, the sender will pay more but the recipient most probably will have to make a trip to the post office to collect the letter as the postmen always deliver the letters when no one is at home.

Currently, there is no Quality of Service (QoS) that dictates when the post should finally reach the recipient. The timer stops ticking the moment the postman reaches the doorstep. It's like MacDonald telling the customer that you'll be served in 10 mins but the timer only starts when you start queuing till the staff takes your order. The preparation of the meal and the final delivery of the meal to you is not included. This of course does not make sense. What's the use of this "fast service"?

Seriously, unless there is a QoS dictated for registered mails, this will continue because it's not of interest to SingPost to deliver the registered mail when someone is around, which will most probably be at night. This will push the onus to the recipient of the mail to go to the post office to collect the registered mail, and they is no push for them to improve the service of those who collect the posts from the post office. Result? Long queues of people lining up to collect their posts. If you think about it, it seems weird that the post office is being paid more but the recipient does not get the mail sooner because they have to find time off from their work to collect the mail.

Like it or not, regulation is the only way to push businesses to improve the service, at least in Singapore. For example, a simple act of issuing a handphone each to the postmen, and asking them to make a call to the owner before delivery and arranging for a time where the person will definitely be at home, will reduce the queue at the post office. This not only saves the postmen time, it will also help the company save on unnecessary fuel cost when delivering the post to an empty house.

Sad to say that this simple act will not even be considered unless there is regulation in place to force the business to innovate. I guess we have a long way to go in terms of customer loyalty.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Commissions may not increase profits

I was reading recently on some research done on the culture of giving commissions for sales and it seems that many big companies are increasingly reducing such culture because they realised that commissions do not meet their main objective.

The fact is that commissions will definitely increase revenue, but it does not always increase your profit. Many reasons were suggested but personally, I believe that it is because sales people who made the sales are not accountable to the execution of the sales. For e.g., if a salesperson made a sale for some kind of service provided by the company, what will happen is that the sales will make a sale, earn their commission, and hand it over to the poor execution team who may be bogged down with unrealistic expectations of the service to be rendered. Result? The salesperson earns the big fat commission and there is high turnover for the execution team because of the "promises" made by the pre-sales team.

There has been a trend now for big companies to do away with this commission scheme because they recognise that commissions do not always increase their net profit, which is the focus of any business operations. Apparently Microchip, a US public company, has adopted this no commission scheme and as a result, revenue increased, cost of sales remain constant, and attrition dropped. They adopted a 90% base salary, 10% corporate performance scheme for anyone who is not an hourly worker.

This works for them, and will most probably work for any other company because this makes the sales people accountable to what they have promised the customers. In the end, if they promise the sky and the company loses money, everyone will be affected. The responsibility is now to the team (pre-sales, sales and execution teams) to deliver, and this has resulted in increase of profits for the company.

This is nothing new as Microchip has been doing it for 10 years. Pity other companies are not following such practices. I guess they do not recognise that happy staff equates to more profits for the company. Pity...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Any task done well is a miracle of achievement

I quote from Og Mandino:
One of the great undiscovered joys of life comes from doing everything one attempts to the best of one's ability. There is a special sense of satisfaction, a pride in surveying such a work, a work which is rounded, full, exact, complete in its parts, which the superficial person who leaves his or her work in a slovenly, slipshod, half-finished condition, can never know. It is this conscientious completeness which turns any work into art. The smallest task, well done, becomes a miracle of achievement.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Inflation is up 4%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2012:January: 4.8%
February: 4.6%
March: 5.2%
April: 5.4%
May: 5.0%
June: 5.3%
July: 4%

Housing and Transport are leading the pack, rising by 6.4% and 5.7% respectively year on year, substantially down compared to June. My initial estimation of the inflation was far off again, and inflation is continuing the downtrend which started in April. Apparently, I believe I knew why my numbers have been slightly off because I read the information from singstat wrongly (they changed the format for this year).

Anyway, last month inflation's results confuse me because the inflation drop is quite extreme even though the rebates were given out in July. Even with this drop, inflation should still be around 5% for 2012. I won't be able to give an estimate for this month's inflation because I can't figure out this extreme drop.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why can't employees stay in the same job scope?

In some organisations, the bosses frown upon employees who wishes to continue to do the same job scope for their whole career. After a number of years, promotion may force the employee to shift to a different job scope that is quite different from what you were originally hired for. Usually some form of management level kind of job scope. Staying at the same job scope to some bosses would mean that you lack the drive and commitment to help the company move forward. I urge them to look at it from another perspective.

Recently I've been reading more and more articles urging bosses to re-think the whole concept of management promotion. Reason being that not all people are suited to manage people. Seriously, how many great managers do you see in an organisation? Very often, you see a person that can function very well at the operational level but are not suited for the management level. The skill sets can be quite different and what happens is that you may lose a very good employee who excel in their operations, and instead replace it with a bad manager. Is that worth it? Not everyone can do well in a management job.

Promote a ill-suited candidate, and you may lose your best employee and get a bad manager. Do nothing and your employee may think that they are not appreciated and they would start to lose morale, affecting their job performance.

It's time to relook at some of the traditional career progression and start to create new paths for those who wish to remain in their area of focus. Specialist, you can call them, who focuses on their area of expertise and does it very well. These people are an asset to any company because they know their area very well, and they are also well-versed in how the company operates, thus able to ease the new staff into the company or assist to improve in the operations due to their experience in being able to marry the 2 together.

It's time to stop thinking that all staff hopes to get promoted to the management level. Some people seriously cannot be in the management level and for the good of the company, they should not be forced into that position.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another take on preserving the Euro

The recent Euro problems are quite well known and many of the Euro countries are unable to keep to the 3% deficit limit. The problem is that it is difficult to keep to the 3% deficit limit when the global economy is still trying to recover from the 2008 great recession. Greece in particular hasn't really recovered from the great recession partly because their finances do not allow them to stimulate the economy. In fact, they are firing more state workers, worsening the economy in order to keep to the deficit limit.

Keeping to the deficit limit is important because one should never spend more than you have. Germany does not hope to write too many blank cheques to the other Euro countries because no matter how rich you are, sooner or later you will be bled dry if you do not have the fiscal discipline. Therefore, I hope to look at the Euro problem from another angle.

The long term plan to reduce the deficit should still continue but the Euro area could establish a economy stimulus fund for the Euro zone. The country is eligible to write up a plan on what they are intending to do, the funds required, the ROI and the repayment terms. The funds granted by this stimulus fund will be "excluded" from the calculation of the deficit but there should be strict adherence to the terms and conditions once the funds are disbursed.

This will help the Euro area to return back to their 3% deficit limit and yet secure additional funds to stimulate their economy. Like it or not, those countries need to stimulate their economies and its definitely not going to air-drop to them from the sky.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Problem with Surveys and Focus Groups

Surveys and focus groups are known to be used by organisations to collect feedback or requirements from groups of people, which will be across certain demographics to determine the project requirements or measure their outcomes. There is one problem though. It's not accurate.

When people are put in a room, and told to give feedback on a certain project or issue, it really depends if the people are truthful and are giving the feedback without duress. Research has been done over the years and it does show that people do lie during surveys for various reasons like boasting of one's credentials, or to influence the way that they are being perceived. Personally, I believe this extends to focus groups.

Instead of doing surveys and focus groups, and the intention is to get accurate feedback, the only way I believe is to "shadow" the people that you hope to get the feedback from. Since they are occupied by their day to day operations, then that's the best time for you to observe them and relate it back to your project.

Tedious? yes. Productive? no. Accurate? Definitely.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Quality is never an accident

I quote from John Ruskin:
Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, the cumulative experience of many masters of craftsmanship. Quality also marks the search for an ideal after necessity has been satisfied and mere usefulness achieved.

That is why quality is always a function of scope, resource and schedule. You need time to produce a quality piece of work. Something that many bosses tend to forget.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Technology doesn't break

I was quite pissed when I read in the news that the CEO pushed the blame to technology and that technology breaks when the service provided by the company screwed up.

Seriously, machines are dumb. The reason why it can do wonders is because people coded the rules in an application to fulfil certain tasks. Why machines are so good at it is because once you tell them the rules, they will do it forever and ever, without missing a step. That's the beauty of applications and that's why information technology has been known to improve productivity.

What happens when the application screws up? There will only be 2 guilty parties. They are:
  1. the users who gave the requirements and tested the system
  2. the programmers who coded the application

Yes, I said 2. When an application is ready to be used in the real business environment (a.k.a production environment), it's a joint responsibility between the programmers who did up the application, and the users who gave the requirements and tested it. The reason is simply because the programmers will never know how you conduct your business. You will have to convey that to the programmers and ensure that they understand what needs to be done. That can be done through a variety of tools such as use case diagrams, swim lanes, etc.

If the application fails, it's no use pushing the blame to the machine (or server). It's a dumb machine. It's always the people that causes the problem. That's why I'm so pissed when the CEO blame it on technology. Technology is never the problem. It's the people who uses them.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why is data centre costs going up?

It's old news that data centre costs are going up and that providers are struggling to reign in the costs of providing such services. They are trying all kinds of technology from redesigning the airflow of the data centre, to virtualisation that optimises the server utilisation.

This does mitigate the problem but personally, I think the root cause of the problem is that people in the IT line has totally no control if systems should be implemented. Tell me how often is it do you see in an organisation where the users went ahead to do up a system without any inputs from the IT folks, and leaving the IT folks to pick up the pieces when things screw up? Common?

With all the focus on time-to-market, few realised that with all the focus on the speed, they forget that whatever that they are doing may be detrimental to the organisation in the long run. Let's give a very simple example. Let's say you have a department A in the division creating an application so that they will be able to publish the content that they have to their customers quickly, not knowing that the content that they are having may not be complete, and that there is another department B that is in-charge of doing it through another system which they have no knowledge of. Result? Confusion to your customers and a drop in customer satisfaction.

The IT departments do have a unique role in any organisation because they are the ones who will have a unique view of all the systems in the organisation, and how it communicates and interacts with each other. In technical terms, it's called enterprise architecture. If you do not give the appropriate authority to the IT departments, what you will end up with will most probably be multiple silo application systems that do not talk to one another and most probably duplicate certain functions, causing confusion to the staff and customers.

With centralised control of all application systems in the organisation, the number of application systems will be more streamlined and thus reducing your IT operational costs because you will have lesser servers to maintain, which will reduce your data centre costs.

However, one caveat though. This is assuming you have an awesome IT department. Quality is never cheap.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Do more, work less

With all the bad press on the inflow of foreign labour to Singapore, I believe "Do more, Work less" will be the motto that we should adopt in the future.

Our ministers said that tightening the inflow of foreign labour will cause our jobs to be a risk is based on the assumption that Singaporeans are in a managerial position, overseeing a group of foreigner workers. However for those at the ground, we know that it is quite often that the manager is often a foreign worker, and they tend to be overseeing also a group of foreign workers. Our jobs are already at risk now because Singaporeans are not usually holding managerial positions. The emphasis on quantity rather than quality seems to be also quite prevalent.

Left unsaid is that what will happen if a national crisis happens to hit Singapore. Look at what happened to Japan recently... All the foreigners left almost immediately after the crisis, scrambling out of the country. Singapore citizens only occupy 60% of the population in Singapore. What will happen when 40% of our population flee our shores in a short period of time? Will Singapore be paralysed?

Therefore, I believe that we should stop thinking that importing cheap foreign labour to do the jobs that Singaporeans shun will resolve our problem. It's only a band-aid that will not resolve the root cause of the problem. The recent news on re-designing jobs to improve productivity will be one key area to resolve this problem.

Let's redesign the jobs and attract Singaporeans to take them up. Not only that, there should be a shift in the working mentality. We should stop associating working hours with productivity and focus on "Do more, Work less". Doing housework is one example. It's something that needs to be done but you need time to finish doing it. If you use the right tools however, you'll be able to complete your housework much more quickly, thus freeing up more personal time for yourself.

It's not easy but we might even be able to resolve our fertility and productivity problem all with one stone if we can achieve it. Let's try to do more, and work less.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Do nothing once in a while

I quote from Winnie the Pooh:
Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.

Sometimes it's good to do nothing once in a while. Slow down, look around, observe what's happening around you. Who knows... You may already be far behind others because you're too focused on what you're doing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

There is no anonymity in the Internet

Seriously I'm not sure why some people think that there is anonymity in the Internet, so they can just post anything without giving a thought on whether what they are posting is accurate or correct. In the Internet world, any website knows who most users are visiting them at any point in time. Just think about it. How does your internet service provider knows that you're accessing the Internet? How does your provider knows how much data you're using? Your provider definitely knows who you are, where you are accessing the internet from, and what you're accessing. Otherwise, how could they bill you?

We need to be more responsible when we interact with other people in the Internet. Rule of thumb. If you do not dare to say what you're posting face to face with the person, then better re-look at what you're saying.

Remember whatever that you say or do can be tracked if there is a need to.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don't rely too much on WhatsApp for important situations

I read today that some groups are going to make use of mobile devices apps such as WhatsApp, Tango and Skype to communicate ground conditions to the main control station. I wonder if they thought of the strength of their data connection to the Internet in that area, especially when there are huge crowds in that area.

If you have a situation where you have thousands of people in that area all at the same time, most probably the mobile base stations in that area will be overloaded and you will not be able to get a good and reliable connection to the internet from your mobile device. That will mean delay in communication back to the main control station if any situations occur at the ground. Sometimes you may not even get a data connection. You can see examples of this when you go to a very crowded shopping mall. You'll find that your mobile device signal indicates that its full strength, but your actual data connection is very slow.

I hope that they have a backup plan because the problem with mobile devices is that the performance is very reliant on the location, and even the weather. This problem also does not restrict to 3G/Edge connection. WiFi also has this issue.

Interesting use of iPads in a restaurant

It has been a long time since I stepped into Sakae Sushi but I was pleasantly surprised in the way that they are using technology to improve their productivity, in particular in ordering.

The concept is very simple. It goes back to the main objective of waiters and waitresses; to serve customers. Therefore, what they have implemented is to install iPads at each table, with an application to allow you to order directly from the iPad. I believe that they are also conscious of the fact that not all will know how to use or want to use the iPad, and prefer a more personal touch.

Therefore they have also configured the restaurant in a way that any section will be serviced by at least one waiter/waitress. The section is not big so that the waitress will not be overloaded. Based on my observation however, few people actually called the waiter/waitress for help, except when they need the bill.

There is of course room for improvement, mostly in how the app on the iPad was designed but I will say that this is the most productive way I've seen so far in usage of technology. They actually recognise that technology is only part of the solution, and not the whole solution. Kudos to Sakae Sushi.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some do not understand the main objective of becoming a PR

Some time back, I read in the forum, most probably written by a  Permanent Resident (PR), where the government should reward "long-stayer" PRs for remaining through thick and thin and drive home the point to all PRs that settling down has its privileges. Seriously, I'm not sure where that idea came from because it deviates from the objective of becoming a PR.

To any government, becoming a PR already means that you're interested in becoming a citizen. It's not something that is given to a foreigner just because they stay here for 5 years. Therefore, becoming a PR is already a stepping stone to becoming a citizen, and therefore awarded certain privileges not available to others who are not PRs.

So why should we reward long-stayer PRs? If they are really interested in staying in Singapore and going through thick and thin with us, then become a Singapore citizen. "Long-stayer" privileges? That's called becoming a citizen.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Morality can give beauty and dignity to life

I quote from Albert Einstein:
The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.

Importance of morality.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Random shots around Saint Petersburg

I'll dedicate a post on all the random shots that I've taken throughout Saint Petersburg during my Russia trip. :) Enjoy the photos.

Unique building along Nevsky Prospect

Bookstore along Nevsky Prospect. Cafe Singer on 2nd floor

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood next to the river

Unique building along a road

Unique building along a road

Mobile toilet using buses!!

Unique building near Nevsky Prospect

St Petersburg at 11pm. :)

Unique house along a road

Peterhof Cathedral

Well-lighted building near the palace bridge

Bronze Horseman

Flowers in front of Smolny Cathedral

Unique building along a road

Seagull landing
Seagull flying around

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