Friday, January 31, 2014

You are one of a kind

I quote from R. Buckminster Fuller:
Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren't any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn't be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life's challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hong Kong MTR profits one of the highest in the world for train operators

Recently there have been articles trying to validate why the transport fares must be raised. However, I just only need to look at the Hong kong MTR model to see that this is not true.

The Hong Kong MTR line knows for the fact that it operational costs will never be fully subsidised by fares because they have a dual mandate to keep trains operational and yet keep fares affordable. They therefore look at the whole issue holistically.

Now, is SMRT as a company losing money? It is not because they have rentals from shops that are subsidising the operational costs of the train. That is exactly what the Hong Kong MTR line is doing. The only reason why they are profitable is because they are following the exact same model. They are cross subsidising the fares with the rentals they have from the shopping malls at the station and rentals from the station itself.

The only difference between Hong Kong MTR line and the Singapore companies are that the MTR line is still owned by the government. Therefore, their mandate is not to make profits. I believe it is structured more like a non-profit organisation when the fares will be kept as low as possible and yet operate with the highest level of service.

If the whole objective is to raise the fares so that the operations can be covered fully by the fares, then please remove the privilege of only allowing the train operators to collect rentals from the stations. Since they are not cross-subsidising at all, might as well take the rentals from the stations and put it in a transport fund where it can be used to subsidise all Singaporeans that are taking the trains.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Inflation is up 1.5%

These are the Singapore inflation rates for 2013:
January: 3.6%
February: 4.9%
March: 3.5%
April: 1.5%
May: 1.6%
June: 1.8%
July: 1.9%
August: 2% 
September: 1.6%
October: 2%
November: 2.6%
December: 1.5%  

Healthcare is once again leading the pack, rising by 3.8%, while Education & Stationery rose 3.5% respectively year on year, similar to last month. Housing remains stable but the transport inflation suddenly went down, mostly due to the ever fluctuating COE prices.

This year's inflation is 2.4%, 0.1% more than the inflation rate I've estimated back in October. However, inflation is most probably going to spike up due to the public transport fare review, and I do not think the fluctuating COE prices will help too. In addition, many food stalls have started to increase prices just before the lunar new year. Based on past experience, the prices will remain up and will not go down after the lunar new year.

Inflation will start off lower for the first few months probably due to the high base last year. After that it's anyone's guess.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Think and Do

I quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases: 1- It's completely impossible. 2- It's possible, but it's not worth doing. 3- I said it was a good idea all along. 

Don't only think about the idea. Turn that idea into action. Otherwise, you will never know what you're thinking is workable. Saying that its a good idea all along is of no use because they are just words. Saying that you have achieve your idea through action is something that you can be proud of.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Removal of coporate tax is not feasible

Some have advocated removing of corporate tax as a means of encouraging businesses to pay more to their employees. However, I have to disagree on this aspect because of one very fundamental reason. There is always a "what if".

Let me explain. As a business owner, you will always try to predict your cashflow 2-3 years ahead, and plan manpower and operating costs based on this assumption. Buffers will always be added in although business owners will usually never reject any opportunities that come knocking.

So what happens if the corporate tax is removed? It will be added in to the buffers. The fact is that unless there is a law that states the minimum salary to be given to any worker, most business owners will try to keep operating costs to the minimum because their line of business may have too many "what ifs". The savings will never flow down to the employees in that manner.

I am not implying that all businesses are like that but just look at the news to see what's happening out there. Outsourcing critical customer-facing operations to countries that may be halfway round the world. Why is it done? Because of operational costs.

Nobody likes to be taxed but I think we must look at it from a more holistic point of view.  Who is paying for the infrastructure that supports businesses? Who is paying to maintain all the airports, seaports and borders that govern the country's imports and exports? Who is in-charge of signing all the agreements that allow your business to expand overseas?

Definitely not the elves. Money must come from somewhere.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Recent MRT lines driving rentals and values down

Recently, I have read in the news that some of the commercial rentals have been coming down due to the MRT network opening in nearby areas. What I predicted back in 2009 here has finally come true.

In other countries, it might make sense to pay a premium because their countries are big and it is not feasible to build a train station at every location within the country. However, people forget that we're Singapore, otherwise known as a little red dot in south east asia.

Building a train station even at every town is something that is definitely achievable here. So what happens if goods/services become widely available? Naturally the price will come down because there is no longer a premium.

As mentioned in 2009, the only factor that is more price insensitive is the location of the property. If the property is only 10mins away from Orchard Road, the price will remain high, no matter how many MRT lines are built.

A slight premium for a home near the MRT may be possible, but I do not see that this even justify a $500,000 price tag.

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

Friday, January 17, 2014

What is a meaningful life?

I quote from T. Scott McLeod:
What was meaningful? What was meaningless? What did it mean, to amount to something? What type of life, was worth living? Was it better, to make a ton of money, and have a ******* goddamn Mercedes, or whatever the **** kind of car it was, to be a lawyer with a ‘serious’ job, and to have ‘amounted to something,’ or was it better to just be a waiter, and work the evening shift, and have your days free to goof off with your roommates, your friends, to go to meditation, to take some time to reflect, and enjoy life, and to not always be in such a big ******* rush to get somewhere? 

Language was censored for viewership purpose. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Definition of too big to fail is wrong

Recently I read that the regulators may be mandating that finance companies worth 100 billion and above will be classified as being too big to fail. Seriously, I wonder if the policy makers do know what they are talking about.

Let me give you a simple example. If I have a company that is worth 100 billion dollars with good operating cash flow and minimal or no debt, will this company be more dangerous than a company with a coverage ratio of less than 0.5?

The answer is pretty obvious. The issue with this too big to fail is not about the valuation of a company. It's about risk management. If the company takes big risk, they will definitely get into trouble. Furthermore, if they take big risk, they may also take great pains to conceal it under tons of documentation. Remember Enron?

The key is not in looking at the valuation, but to look from the risk management and compliance perspective. Finance companies, big or small, should have a strict oversight on the amount of risk they can take. For example, there may be a yearly review on the coverage ratio of the parent and all subsidiaries/associated companies for example. This review will look into both risk management and compliance with the finance regulations. Frequency may differ depending on how big the finance company is.

Putting a value to too big to fail is a wrong step in my opinion. A small company can also cause a lot of damage if too many wrong choices are made consecutively.

Monday, January 13, 2014

New LG Smart TV based on Web OS

I've written a post last year about how LG can transform the Web OS they bought from HP and integrate it into their products. Recently in the CES, LG has finally debut their Smart TV based on the Web OS platform.

However the similarity stops there. Previously I have mentioned that the Web OS is not as bloated as the rest of the OS and therefore the company that has bought it will be able to integrate it and make things simple to use.

However, based on the demos I've seen so far, LG has made the Web OS bloated with many other apps which I felt that is not essential to TV.

What is TV to us? Essentially, it's watching a video, be it pre-recorded or live. That's it. The key is the experience that you want the users get that revolves around this functionality. With an operating system that is designed for the internet, the logical choice is to integrate this experience to the internet by allowing the user to share this information with others.

Unfortunately, I did not see this experience being demo at the reviews I've seen so far for this TV. As this functionality is not easy to do, it would have been demo if it is being built within the TV. An example would be for the TV to get information from the TV tuner and allow this to be shared on Facebook directly for example. You can also integrate live twittering during a TV show for example to name a few.

The other aspect is about making the TV easy to use. Personally, I find that a long row of app choices at the bottom of the screen does not really make things easy to use because there are just too many choices. A TV is not a computer and people expect the experience to be different when using a TV. It's like a touch screen device and a normal laptop. You definitely do not expect to use the mouse and scroll down on a touch screen device.

The part about LG making it easy to setup and connect the TV is a right step though, although I did not see much reviews about this functionality. I hope the experience is similar to how a Playstation integrates with the Sony TV. for example, the PS can auto switch on a Sony TV once it is activated and likewise switch it off when it is powered down.

This kind of little things really make the experience complete, and make it simple to use. This is just the first version though. Let's wait and see...

Below is a video I've found on a review of the smart TV.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Education is ...

I quote from Mizuko Ito:
...rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids' participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement.

Do not forget business engagement. That's what education is all about. Does it matter if you got an A for winning a contract or a pass?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kaizen being implemented wrongly by most

Kaizen, otherwise known as continuous improvement process, is an incremental effort based on feedback to improve the business operations so that value can be added in the products or services delivered. However, judging from the many Kaizen processes that I've heard so far, the attempted implementation does not fully reflect the true purpose of Kaizen.

Ideas for the continuous improvement is meant to come from the workers as they are less likely to be radically different, and therefore easier to implement. However, some have taken this literally and requested feedback to be given on a set frequency. That defeats the purpose of Kaizen because the feedback will only come when they find that a certain process can be improved. In addition, the management support is also important because if the management is known to be not receptive of any improvements or changes due to priority, then the workers will not even bother to suggest. Last but not least, workers are generally afraid that any improvements may render their jobs useless and therefore they will lose their jobs.

I feel that the key focus of Kaizen is the process in place where the senior management, finance and HR are in agreement on how to encourage workers' feedback. Workers are most concern of job security and their benefits. If Kaizen is not structured around what concerns workers' the most, the outcome will not be that ideal as the motivation is missing.

How could staff think of improving any processes if it may end up with the staff doing additional work or losing their job in the process?

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Repair Disk Permissions after OS X upgrade

I have recently upgraded to the free OS X Mavericks and after the upgrade for both my MacBook Air 2012 and Mac mini late 2009, both machines experienced slowness in starting up and shutting down. In addition, the screen sharing functionality is extremely slow.

I managed to resolve this issue by doing a repair via the Disk Utility. To repair your Mac, just do the following:
  1. Use Spotlight and search for Disk Utility
  2. After running Disk Utility, select Macintosh HD, which is usually the main harddisk that stores your operating system files
  3. Click on Verify Disk Permissions. If prompted for a login, key in the administrator user ID and password.
  4. Click on Repair Disk Permissions after verification of the disk permissions are completed. If prompted for a login, key in the administrator user ID and password.

Once completed, restart the mac and the speed and the screen sharing issues should have been resolved. It worked for me.

Friday, January 3, 2014

You're never totally in the right or totally in the wrong

I quote from Thabo Mbeki’s:
In all disputes a point is arrived at where no party, no matter how right or wrong it might have been at the start of that dispute, will any longer be totally in the right or totally in the wrong. ...

The above quote was only a section of what was being said in the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban but I think the quote above is important in any kind of situations. We are never totally in the right or totally in the wrong. There may be something that we have assumed or we know about it, but fail to remind the other party about it.

Either case, don't always assume you're always right. Majority of the time, this is not the case.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What happened to security by design?

I have always warned those closest to me to never store the credit card information online because of the possibility of the information being stolen. In fact, if you think about it, the PS3 incident where the user IDs and passwords were stolen seem to be minor when compared to the latest incident where Target Corp's customers' ATM PINs were stolen.

True, the ATM PINs were encrypted but the question is why were the ATM PINs stored in Target's servers in the first place?

I have been taught never to store any card information or expiry date in the design of any system. This information should just be sent directly to the payment gateway and the information must not be stored on the merchant server as the possibility of the information being stolen will be detrimental to the company.

For those who wants to choose flexibility over security, do note what you're getting yourself into. Remember all these hacking, and defacement incidents this year? Always choose security over flexibility, and the needs to be incorporated into the design of any system early.

Remember, the real hackers are those who have gotten the information that they need but yet you're unaware of it. Those are the pros.

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