Friday, November 30, 2012

Joy of achievement

I quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

Happiness also comes from the sense of fulfillment, the sense of joy when you complete whatever that you're doing successfully. That sense of achievement is difficult to replicate, and in the end you will find what you've been through worthwhile.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stop focusing on the marks for PSLE

Personally, I've always wondered what is so special about the PSLE such that the results show the total marks that you score for all your subjects. All the results thereafter only show something equivalent to the Grade Point Average (GPA).

Why must we be so fixated on the marks that the kids are getting? Isn't it enough to know that they got A, or A+? Why can't PSLE follow the same GPA system as secondary school and tertiary education?

Even when I was young, I never thought much about the number that I got after PSLE. Now, I don't even care about that number. However, it seems that many parents are fixated now on this magical number, and for what reason I've absolutely no idea.

I'm not very old but I think that to everyone, childhood is one of the best memories that anyone can have. Why do we want to fill our childhood with memories of going to countless tuition classes or enrichment classes? Why can't we fill it with family bonding time, family excursions, or just normal conversations?

Are exam results so important?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's time to put a ceiling for the cost of HDB flats

I was reading an article that recommended putting a ceiling in all sales of HDB flats. I do agree that this should be the way to go for a very simple reason. HDB flats are meant to be affordable.

HDB flats are public housing and were created to enable all Singaporeans to be able to own a flat. Therefore, if you use that as the principle, HDB flats should not be priced in a way that is not affordable to Singaporeans, but still allow Singaporeans to be able to fund their retirement, and allow them to purchase another flat after the sale of the HDB flat.

One of the thoughts I have is to put a hard ceiling on the cost of all HDB flat sales, pegged to a certain percentage above the valuation of the HDB flat so that the price of HDB flats will not runaway. For e.g., there can be a rule that HDB flats cannot be sold beyond 150% of the valuation of the HDB flat.

Pegging it to a certain percentage above valuation have a couple of advantages. Most important is that whoever who sells the HDB flat will still be able to afford to get another flat so that they can have a roof over their heads. Why we peg it to the valuation is based on the assumption that valuation of the HDB flats will be fair and transparent, and reflect accurate sentiments in that environment. Pegging it to a percentage above the valuation is to reflect certain situations where the location and renovation of the HDB flats do translate into higher value of the flat, in addition to the size of the flat.

At least pegging it to the valuation will prevent runaway prices. I'm still a firm believer that since HDB flats are meant for all Singaporeans, it should be kept affordable so that young couples need not always have to purchase BTO flats as the resale flats are out of reach of most young couples (not including those couples with rich parents).

Setting this ceiling will put the pressure off new flat and instead allow young couples to be able to purchase resale flats. This aligns with the principle of HDB flats. Personal thought though...

Monday, November 26, 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%
August: 3.9%
September: 4.7%
October: 4%

Transport and Housing are leading the pack, rising by 7.5% and 5.6% respectively year on year, a decrease compared to September's inflation. Inflation seems to have moderated slightly due to the slight decrease in the price of oil I presume. However, other items in basket are seeing an increase compared to the previous month. This might be short-lived though as Thanksgiving and Christmas has gone or almost upon us. That means discount time.

My second-half estimates are way off again. Guess I need to find time to analyse why. Maybe my day job is getting into me. Anyway, this month's inflation should be slightly lesser than 4%. Looking at the current trend, looks like MAS inflation estimates may be true after all.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Technology makes a difference in people's lives

I quote from Barack Obama:
I want us to ask ourselves every day, how are we using technology to make a real difference in people's lives.

It is not common to see people in high positions knowing that technology is something that can help make a real difference in people's lives. I've long heard of people in high positions refusing to even attempt to understand the technology, calling it complex, and cutting the costs that keeps the technology alive, not knowing that it is the competitive advantage that keeps the organisation ahead of others.

Let's hope more of such people will go up the top management.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stop focusing on business. Focus should be on the employees

Many governments have been focusing on giving breaks to businesses in the hope that whatever breaks given will filter down to the employees. So what's the result? Record amounts of cash being kept by the businesses because they do not believe that pushing these savings to the employees will help them. May or may not be true, but if you look at the situation in the long run, I always believe that treating your employees right will lead to a virtuous cycle which will have a positive effect on the economy.

I personally believe the US election results do show that the US citizens are tired of breaks given to businesses which do not filter down to the people. They have chosen someone whom they hope will create policies that will force businesses to act instead of keeping record amounts of cash. Translated, cash given to businesses must come with conditions and there cannot be any assumption that businesses will do whatever is right. Based on our history, we make most of our wrong moves in times of uncertainty. This definitely qualifies as times of uncertainty.

Frankly, I believe most companies will not do whatever that is right for the society because the fundamental reason why a company is set up is usually to make money for the owners. It's like asking a listed company to price their products fairly because it is used by everyone in the country. Why on earth would they do that? That company will definitely be very happy because its in the situation where they are monopolising the market. They can price it in anyway that they want and people will still have to buy their products. Price their products fairly? Like real. Unless they are a non-profit organisation.

Policy makers need to re-think on how to stimulate the economy. It must be grants given with conditions, and the conditions must aid the citizens. After all, it is public money.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reverse Psychology may help

I still don't understand why some people think all of us are interested in whatever games or songs that they are playing and they want to blast it out loud within the train or bus, letting all of us hear it. If you don't have earphones, then switch off the sound. It's called basic courtesy.

Maybe we should practice a bit of reverse psychology. If someone blasts out any sound or music without ear phones, it is definitely correct to assume that the person wants to attract attention. Therefore, we should go close and stare at the device that is making the noise. Blocking the person's view is recommended otherwise it is difficult to see what's the game or music that is being played on the device.

Well, they want to attract attention right? Reverse psychology at work.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Leaving to market forces will never help

I was reading an article on R&D and in it, it opined that when companies are left to their own devices, they would do less R&D than is optimal even though it will ultimately benefit the company in the long run. It's one of the main reasons why credit is given when companies do R&D.

However, this opinion does sets me thinking. If the government needs to give credit for companies to do something that is actually beneficial to them in the long run, how can the government then say in the same breath that leaving it to the market forces will achieve whatever outcomes that are optimal for the society.

Just by taking the public transport everyday, it's quite obvious to anyone that in order for things to be in order, there must be some form of intervention, in terms of fines to discourage bad behaviour, or even benefits to encourage good behaviour. Like it or not, when humans are left to their own devices, they will usually take the easiest way out.

I never believe in leaving to market forces as the market will mostly seek to benefit themselves, and not to society as a whole. Pity though.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Power vs Responsibility

This thought suddenly pop into my head one day when I was heading to work:
With power comes great responsibility, but how about those that were given great responsibility, with no power?

I'm sure that somewhere in your life, you would have encountered such a situation where you're entrusted with great responsibility to make sure a particular project is a success. However, you're given little to no power in order to push it through because like all complex projects, no one will listen to you if you have no power.

What happens then? The blame is on you if the project is a failure, and the top people may even conveniently ignore the fact that it's because the lack of their participation that caused the project to fail.

Pity but that's how life goes... We can only try to avoid such situations.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Virtualisation is still a big minefield

Whenever I go to seminars where they talk about how virtualisation will help businesses cut down costs, and allow their staff to Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) which increase productivity, I always have to resist the urge to speak out and ask them one important question... How much does that software cost?

For those who purchase enterprise software, I'm sure many are aware that nowadays, vendors seem to be gradually changing their licensing model for their enterprise software because they realised that the virtualisation take-up rate is actually reducing the number of licenses being bought by businesses.

So what do that they do? They create complicated licensing mechanisms which in the end, translate to higher costs for customers. For example, I heard of a licensing model where they charge based on the blade server processor cores instead of the number of cores that the particular virtual machine is using.

Yes, you're hearing it right. That means if you are using a blade server with 16 processor cores, operating one virtual machine with 4 processor cores running that particular enterprise software, you end up paying for 16 processor cores even though that particular software is only using 4.

Not only that, you have to pay more if you have enabled the failover feature in most virtualised environment because they tie your licensing to that particular blade server. Therefore, if your virtual machine failover to another blade server, you need to pay for that particular blade server configuration in addition to the normal blade server you're using.

Sounds crazy? You bet... I think there is going to be a backlash for those customers using virtualisation and who knows, people might either start going open source (which doesn't have all these crap), or go back to physical servers.

Counter productive but with this kind of restrictive licensing model, they've taken out all the benefits of owning a virtualisation environment. Pity...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Big companies are not putting too much attention to IT

I was reading an article that was talking about big fortune 500 companies being hacked and them keeping very quiet over it. To top it off, that particular fortune 500 company didn't know that they were being hacked until someone else informed them.

Personally, I think too many companies just take IT for granted and prioritised accessibility over security. Not only that, they feel that if anyone knows basic computer knowledge, they are good enough to manage the whole computer infrastructure. When I hear of such cases, all I could do was shake my head.

Yes, you may think that IT is not important. It's too complicated. It's too complex. Hey but like it or not, IT is important and have been used extensively by many big companies to improve productivity. What happens after they improve their productivity? They forget all about security. Putting all the intimate information of your business into your IT environment and conveniently forget all about the security. I liken it to renovating your house very nicely but forgetting to build a front door with a locking mechanism.


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Monday, November 12, 2012

Another take on the lightning connector

Everyone has been complaining that Apple has switched to the lightning connector because they want to make more money and force everyone to change their devices to the newer ones.

Yes, I believe that they could be one of the reasons why they do it, but I believe that this is not the reason why Apple did it. Think about it. A whole ecosystem was built around this connector that was unchanged for almost 10 years. What other reasons would Apple have to disrupt this whole ecosystem?

Personally, I find that the reasons could be as easy as the position of the headjack. Yes... It sounds a bit anal but you can try to analyse the way you use the iPhone. For e.g., if you have a habit of putting the iPhone in your pocket, you will usually position it such that the iPhone is facing downwards. If you have your earphones plugged in, you will need to position the phone awkwardly in your pocket.

It makes sense that the headjack be positioned at the bottom but if you look at the bottom of the iPhone, you have a problem. There is not enough space below to position the headjack and the speakers all at the same place. Therefore, the only possible way to move the headjack down is to either shrink the connector, or make the iPhone bigger.

You might ask why not make the iPhone bigger like the Samsung phones. Well, if the phone is any bigger, the phone will be rather uncomfortable if you put it in the pocket. I tried putting the Galaxy Note II and the S3 and I don't quite like the way it is hitting me when it's in my pocket. Furthermore, playing with the screen size in any way will cause problem to their hundreds of thousands of apps in their AppStore and may cause problems in the way all the Apps will be displayed within the iPhone. Needless to say that the bigger the screen size, the more expensive the phone will be.

Therefore, the only least disruptive way for Apple is to shrink the connector instead of increasing the screen size. To keep the costs down, they have to make sure all the devices use this new connector so that they could keep the cost down through volume manufacturing.

Well, this is just personally why I think Apple did it, other than the fact that it is quite cool that you can connect the lightning connector any way you want, unlike the 30-pin connector where you can only connect it in one particular manner. Now you can actually put the iPhone in your pocket naturally, and the earphones will naturally go out of your pocket towards your ears.

It could be that Apple wanted to make more money though. Just something to think about...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Where we stand at times of challenge and controversy

I quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

When we review our actions when we are at times of challenge and controversy, do our actions make sense, or do we fall into a nervous wreck?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Neglect of backend infrastructure

I was reading about a hospital evacuation in New York and it came to me that what caused the evacuation is similar to situations I see elsewhere. An apparent neglect in backend infrastructure that powers everything in the business. Electricity went out in the hospital when Hurricane Sandy hit New York, and their backup generator failed. Blame was placed on the outdated backup power system powering the hospital.

Likewise in other businesses, you also see a similar scenario. People rather spend on things which they can visually see or touch, such as marketing campaigns, packaging, latest medical equipment, etc. They tend to not remember that there are certain critical equipment that is powering up your whole infrastructure, and since it is out of sight, it is out of mind.

Critical infrastructure such as the backup generators, power systems, network connectivity for the building, servers powering up your applications, and of course, the applications itself that aims to help improve productivity within an organisation. All these are usually considered backend. People tend to ignore them because they are things that are not visible to everyone, and mostly taken for granted to just work. In fact, some may even want to ignore it on purpose as it is not easy to understand the technology that powers such infrastructure.

However, ignore it at your own peril. Why? Just ask yourself. If the email happens to stop working in your organisation, or somehow you are unable to connect to a system to approve an urgent request, is it because of bugs in the systems, or is it because you fail to invest sufficiently in your backend infrastructure to ensure the lights are still on?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My reasons why NYSE closed

NYSE closed and stopped even electronic trading when Hurricane Sandy hit New York. Many questioned why the electronic trading has to stop. Well, I guess they don't really understand about computer systems.

I believe nowadays, people have been spoiled, no thanks to Google because it seems that regardless of rain or shine, access to Google just seem to work. No one bothered to question why so they just assumed that it should be easy, since Google is "free to use".

I do not know the real reasons behind why NYSE closed but based on my experience in the technology industry, I can hazard some guesses.

Power - I believe power should be a major concern and one of the key factors in closing the electronic trading because multiple scenarios could happen when Sandy hits New York. Yes, most data centres have backup generators, and backup UPS but just think about this for a moment. How long does UPS last? Maybe a couple of hours, but UPS is just meant to be there so that you can safely shutdown the systems. How about backup generators you might ask? I will then ask you what does backup generators get their power from? Fuel? Connection to another powergrid? What happens if Sandy cuts both of them?

If there is no guarantee on consistent flow of power to the systems, proper risk management dictates that you should shutdown the systems because you will not want to encounter data corruption in your system.

Connectivity - Even if you can assure yourself of the availability of power, you also need to think of the connectivity to the systems itself. How do people connect to systems you might ask? Well, the same way you connect to the Internet at your house, through wire (yes, it is much more efficient than any mobile connectivity).

No one can guarantee that the connectivity will be available when Sandy hits New York. If the flooding is bad, the salt water may reach the connectivity lines and corrode it, causing corruption to the data that is being transmitted. This can be at the data centre end, or at the customers' end. No one will know, and it is extremely difficult to pinpoint where's the problem. Again, it's data corruption.

Service Level Agreement - Now with all being said, do you think NYSE is able to guarantee the service level availability of the system? If anything goes wrong, do you think that they will be able to marshal the resources to get people to fix it in the agreed timeframe? Do you know that the penalty for not meeting the service level agreement can be quite severe?

From the risk management perspective, it is definitely safer to shutdown all the systems and allow trading to resume when Sandy passes by New York, which was what they did. I think many people do not really understand the amount of effort done by engineers at the backend, ensuring that everything is working as intended.

That's why people say that ignorance is bliss.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gangnam Style in our lives

I admit... I was one of the first few people who saw the gangnam style youtube video before it became a sensation in Singapore, and my first impression? I didn't know what was so appealing about it except that the dance is pretty unique. After it became a sensation, I still don't quite understand why, except again because of the dance.

Finally, when I was reading an article with regard to South Korea, I begin to realise why it is so popular. It seems that I would only understand why it is so popular if I understand Korean.

Apparently, Psy has a subversive message within the video that talks about class and wealth being false gods. Everywhere, it seems that people are coming to the realisation that gross domestic product gains doesn't necessary result in commensurate gross domestic happiness. This comes back to the fundamental objective of why do we want gross domestic product gains. Does class and wealth translate to happiness?

Is what we are doing now translating to happiness in our life? Happiness in how we are living? Happiness on just being alive? Do we even know the answer?

Friday, November 2, 2012

People and Leadership are most important

I quote from Steve Case:
And I'd say one of the great lessons I've learned over the past couple of decades, from a management perspective, is that really when you come down to it, it really is all about people and all about leadership. 

People and leadership are the 2 most important aspects of any business or organisation, but most of the time I do not see the focus on these 2 and in fact, I see politics driving away the very talent that makes the business prosper. Pity...
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