Monday, October 31, 2011

7,000,000,000

The human population officially arrived at this magical number today. The first question I asked myself was, " how do they know?". I google and found this website which doesn't really give a formula on how the human population is tracked. At best the actual human population is a guesstimate and our concern is not the preciseness of the number but the impact of these diverse humanity on each other and on the environment that finds it more and more difficult to sustain them. According to this report the world received its 6th billion human being 12 years ago and in this period population growth actually slowed down, which mean the 8 billion target may be reached 12 or more years from now but that depends on the fertility rates of the various sub-cultures and race groups. Still it is mind boggling to think that within the next century the world population can potentially grow by another 7 billion (assuming growth rate of a billion every 12 - 13 years), although growth rates are declining. THIS website projects the population to reach 9.5 billion by 2050. However Wikipedia article projects slower population growth in the coming decades, taking 13 to 15 years to reach the next billion level. While we are most unlikely to be around to feel the impact of a very packed humanity I certainly feel we won't be more civilized than now in the manner we deal with one another. I was reminded of a science experiment I read during my schooldays of mice. Mice are actually nice creatures to each other. However the experiment showed when mice population grew within a confined space to a point when scarcity of food and water, space congestion, poor hygiene and pollution start to irritate the mice they became aggressive and no longer the nice creature they once were. What I learned from this, which still stayed fresh in my mind, is that we are potentially selfish creatures, mice or human. When our survival or comfort zone is compromised we too can turn aggressive and protective.

As the world turns we will live in more hostile environment. The more conducive places will attract more migrants. They become over populated and over competitive. You already see it in places like Mexico, Calcutta, Shanghai, Bangkok, Jakarta and Hong Kong. Where do people turn for refuge? Families grow closer, so will people sharing similar faith, tradition and interests. We become selective in dealing with new acquaintance to ensure they match our interests and preferences. For most of us who can manage our time and resources comfortably we will be blessed immeasurably in the midst of a growing tide of human population forging a life for themselves, hoping to be successful and secured for their future and that of their children.

Seven billion. Most of us just let the number slip by as we find it quite irrelevant since most of the world is very distant from the familiar family and friends who are our real world. Chances are they number less than seven hundred.

If you are still curious about the accuracy of the human population, well, it is an extrapolation of statistics from the United Nations Population Division.

Interesting related articles:
Welcome to a very full world, Danica
The Seven Billion Person Question
World Population would have touched 7 billion a few years ago
Find out where you fit in Earth's 7 billion people
Population is not the problem
The end of population growth

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Playing with Fire

Not long after the current Education Minister who is also the Deputy Prime Minister took office he reversed the policy of teaching Mathematics and Science in English introduced in 2002. Effectively about 8 streams of students have benefitted from the transition which aimed to produce technocrats and science graduates competent internationally. I doubt the policy dubbed PPSMI was intended to export competent and well grounded science graduates. The policy was decided on the basis that using English as the lingua franca is sensibly since almost all science books, journals and research works are written in that language. Yes, there is the alternative argument that we are shaming our national language by reverting to that of our colonial master, which some of our people believe continue to colonize us via the language which is an unfortunate and myopic view. One's pride as citizen and of any racial grouping should not be dented by economic advantage in learning. Looking at our neighbors, studying English for career survival is a pragmatic decision. Learning one's national language is a citizen's responsibility which must not be confused with a patriotic duty and hence to dispense away what are opportunistic for our future. In the context of Malaysia it is normal for its people to be at least bilingual. Some even have to be trilingual.

The government cannot and must not experiment with the education policy which affects millions of our children, and thousands of science teachers too. The PPSMI decision was arrived at after serious study and must not be disbanded by one's fancy. In fact education policy must be above the purview of politicians who come and go. We Malaysian citizens demand a policy that is carried though with every change in EM and even government. Every change must be in consultation with civil societies interested in the welfare of our nation. The confrontation from the pressure group acronymed PAGE to protest against the switch back to using Bahasa Malaysia as lingua franca for Maths and Science progressively from next year has reach new height with a threat to not vote for the incumbent government if it pursues the revision which the EM said is not feasible which is a subtle rejection of PAGE demand. This puts the government in an awkward position to eat humble pie or risk the wrath of parents who care for the future of their children. Will the prime minister be able to reign in his powerful deputy PM or let the public sentiments decide his mandate at the 13th General Election due in the coming year?

Read THIS latest report.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wet Wet Days

The latest news on the aggravating flood situation in Bangkok (read HERE) is driving both the government and the residents towards containment of a potential disaster like a slow motion reverse tsunami that people have time to take actions to save as much as possible before the floods consume whatever that gets in its path. In a sense I feel sorry for the Thais for having to deal with both man-made (political turmoils in the past 2 years) and natural problems. I wonder if Malaysia has been the target instead how shall we respond?

If you ever wonder why is the flood situation in Thailand this year extra severe go read THIS report and watch the videoclip at the end (in Thai but with English sub-title, very educational). The Thais still have a sense of humor in moments like this.

Back in Seremban we've been having frequent rain every day but not serious enough to cause floods like in Thailand. The rain does disrupt work none the less. The ongoing renovation work in my neighbor's house was slightly affected. Several days ago while the workers were plastering the new wall between our houses rain fell and they had to quickly cover the uncured concrete with plastic sheets.



Yesterday was Deepavali, the festival of light celebrated by the Hindus. It was a public holiday and we took the opportunity to visit my Hindu brother-in-law. As expected it rained during the get-together and that night, as I was resting from nausea caused by suspected food poisoning, it rained again. Awhile ago it rained too. I am hoping that it won't rain when my plumber comes shortly to realign some outdoor water piping.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Latest PC Addition

The Dell purchase experience is unrivalled. Two days after my order was confirmed I received an email assuring me that my PC will be delivered 4 days later on October 25. It was the preciseness of delivery that amazes me as the supply chain logistics involve many parties. I could have bought another PC in fewer days off the rack but ordering a custom build unit is interesting, so takes time. Just like ordering freshly baked pizzas. So today to my great anticipation, and impatience, my Dell XPS 8300 arrived today at 11.30am as promised. It was a customized system that has the main specs below.

1. 2nd Generation Intel(R) Core(TM) i5-2320 Processor (3.0GHz, 6MB cache)
2. 4GB (2X2GB) DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz Memory
3. Built-in 19-in-1 Media Card Reader
4. 1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive with Native Command Queuing
5. 16X DVD+/-RW with Dual Layer Write Capabilities
6. AMD Radeon HD 6450 1GB DDR3
7. Integrated high definition 7.1 channel audio
8. Dell™ 1501 Wireless-N Mini PCI Card (802.11 b/g/n compliant)
9. Dell(TM) Wireless Desktop Keyboard and Mouse Bundle
10. Genuine Windows® 7 Professional SP1 64 bit (English)
11. Microsoft(R) Office Home and Student 2010 (SEA)
12. DELL ST2320L 23"W HD Monitor with WLED and supported by a
13. 3-year XPS Premier Service with 1-year CompleteCover

It is not a particularly high powered PC but more than adequate to meet my usage pattern and demand. And I paid just over RM3100 for it. I spent 3 hours assembling it configuring the software and installing new ones. On the whole I am pleased with it but am weary that some of the older software that ran under the 32 bit Windows system now cannot run under the newer 64 bit system which my new PC is based on. The bigger 23" screen is fantastic and the bundled Arcsoft Stage multimedia software resembles that of Picasa and Apple.


I got the space all ready for the new PC


After installation. Notice my wireless printer on the right


The Home screen showing the Stage multimedia icons


I suggest covering the Windows licence in a protective screen like this

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bhutan - Pursuing Happiness

Coincidentally 2 days ago while chatting with a colleague's husband on the way to a workshop meeting he asked if I had been to Bhutan. I said no and he quickly recommend going. He said Bhutan has very strict policies on tourism and ensures limited number of arrivals as well as preservation of her environment and culture. Indeed for a small landlocked country to deny itself of more tourism revenue is surprising because many countries look to tourism as a way to raise revenue if they cannot produce sufficient goods and services to improve its export revenue. With a very small population of under 1 million it depends on agriculture, forestry and tourism to support its economy which grew significantly from the sale of its hydroelectricity power to India.

Today the Star's Bizweek carries a 4 page article on Bhutan. What caught my attention was its byline - Bhutan .. is proof that happiness does not necessarily come with high income. I am sure it wasn't written to snub PM Najib's promise to create a high income society. But I feel we have a lesson to learn from a near unknown country miniscule in size but with wisdom worth emulating.

Bhutan has a GNH or Gross National Happiness index reviewed biennially to determined if her people are happier or otherwise. Why would a government cares for its citizens's happiness? I believe happiness produces productivity as well as stability. People who's lives are grounded in happiness are able to deal with problem more responsibly, act less rashly, and are better able to deal with trials and complain less. A Chinese proverb declares a person attains greatest happiness when he (she) depends on him (her)self rather than on others. Sounds like a familiar issue we are facing, isn't it? No wonder our GNH (which is non-existent) will be extremely low. Many Malaysians dwell in problems instead of enjoying our prosperity. While the Thais suffer massive floods that threatens the livelihood of hundreds of thousands in and around the capital Bangkok, we are having a bunch of intolerant people fighting an invisible fear called 'christianization' in a nation with majority Muslim population. It is like we are on a scenic tour and instead of enjoying the beauty and taking in the refreshing sights we complained about a fellow traveler or the guide. We deliberately choose to be unhappy!

In a side article entitled 'Can Malaysia aim to be happier?' head of the government's Performance Management and Delivery Unit, Idris Jala, sidestepped the question. Instead he explained the government is focused on 'producing big results fast and raising the bar of our competitiveness in the global markeplace'. The answer avoid the spiritual welfare of our citizens but focus on materialism. Our national health is not based on GDP which may indicate we are a fast growing economy. But of what use if the citizens are disunited, living in suspicion of each other, struggling to meet their debts, having less time for self development and family? Of what use if a man should gain the whole world but in the process loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26). Our situation may not be as serious as the warning from the Bible but close enough. In our pursuit for wealth and position we can forego balancing our spiritual needs.

The Bhutanese quest for happiness in a world competing to be rich and powerful may ultimately be the source of envy. Being isolated it stands a very good chance of being the happiest people on earth. We don't need to fly there to learn their secrets. We just need to realize that if we are unselfish, trust in each other and care for the wellbeing of our neighbors we shall begin to understand that

Happiness is found in doing, not merely possessing. (Napoleon Hill)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Were We Irresponsible?

A week after returning from Hanoi I reflected the risks we exposed ourselves to during the holiday and I must confess we could have chosen safer itineraries but the adventurous spirit in me and the thought that if I miss this one I'd never get to do it made me go ahead as planned. Four areas made us vulnerable.

Travel Style
I had always travel in groups. Only once my wife and I went free and easy and that was to Kuching, Sarawak where we were familiar with language and culture. We had travelled a few times as family and those were the most memorable. I wish we can have more of this. We travelled once with a church member family and that too gave me enormous satisfaction of a great holiday. But being with strangers is both challenging and at times risky. This Hanoi trip was totally different from all other travels.

Booking online is not a problem. In fact it offer wider choices and I was happy to use this approach. Had I chosen a local tour I would be safer but with less excitement and adventure. In my package we dealt with different people every time. On arrival, a man with my name on a card greeted us at the arrival hall and whisked us into a taxi whose driver doesn't speak English much. At the agency office where I settled the balance due I met my contact Xuan for the first, and last, time. I only spoke to her out of necessity to resolve our transportation issue for our city tour on the last day.

During the Halong Bay tour we were served by a guide from the cruise company. He brought us back and made sure we got to the hotel for our rest before the train ride to Lao Cai. Another couple took over this stage of driving us to the station, buying the tickets and bringing us safely to our cabin in the correct coach of the correct train. Just remember everything is in Vietnamese.

When we arrived Lao Cai, a different guide and driver handled our Sapa holiday and bought us down to Lao Cai the following evening. We were checked into the coach by a different person as the guide had an emergency to attend. And back in Hanoi the next morning fortunately the same guy who bought us to the station 2 nights previously came to look for us and arranged for us to be sent to the hotel to rest and have our breakfast. And finally on the city tour we had a different guide altogether.

We had no group, met new people every time and probably not able to build friendship since our contact last 24 hours or less.

Kayaking
Neither my wife nor I swim so deciding to wear life jackets and get into a kayak took great faith. We've never done this and until we started donning the jackets I wasn't sure if it was a good idea but we went ahead anyway and didn't regret one bit. We struggled with the paddles and couldn't coordinate smoothly and were left behind the group of 5 kayaks. Just remember the rest were around half our age!

The thrill and laughter rejuvenated me although we got ourselves wet. We were told that was because we didn't paddled deep and hard enough. A few times we rammed into other boats and kayaks and had to be pushed away. Back at the jetty we got the kayak pointing the wrong direction and received last minute tip how to reverse paddle to stop. All in we failed as kayakers but it was fun.

Trekking
Honestly I wasn't prepared and wasn't keen but since it was in the deal and opting out means watching tv in our room, I thought I would be laughed at if I missed this out. The first trek was a few hours after our arrival at Sapa and even before we checked into our hotel room. The guide was unhelpful and probably helped us go ahead with minimal preparation. For 4 hours we walked over muddy and stony terrains, up and down uneven steps. My knees were wobbly, I have knee problems so I had to walk cautiously. Climbing down was more demanding as the downward impact on the knee joints caused more pain. Thankfully I didn't slip or fall. It was at the top of a tiring climb that we stopped to rest on a bench set up by this young man who sell belts and made me a customer.

Back in our hotel room I gratefully applied the analgesic cream we brought to soothe the ache. I was deeply apprehensive if I had to abort the longer 12km trek the next morning. The guide reassures it would be easier.

Looking back I was satisfied we made the 12km hike unscathed. Would I repeat this hike? I think once is good enough. Seriously there were moments when an accident can happen. We were walking on our polyurethane klogs, not ideal for such outdoor activities. However with wet weather forecasts we felt this is the best all-weather footware and was proven right during our city tour when it poured and flooded a temple we visited. My main worry was puncture by sharp rocks or pebbles which fortunately didn't happen. The klogs now boast among our other foot wares of having gone to places the others missed.

Overnight Train Ride
I nearly revised my itinerary when I discovered the trip to Sapa involves sleeping in tight 4 berth cabin uncomfortably for 8 hours sharing space with total strangers. I confess I am claustrophobic and I visit the lavatory several times at night. Would I survive such a trip? Not once but twice? I spent a few nights before our holiday imagining the scenario.

Our first ride was in the company of a Swiss couple about early 50s who had arrived Hanoi that very day. They needed rest so didn't converse much. Miraculously in spite of the shaky ride I managed to grab almost 7 hours of sleep. And I didn't feel closeted at all. On our return ride we shared cabin with an Australian couple about our age. We chatted bit because we've bumped before while buying my belts. The ride experience was similar to the first ride. Thank goodness our cabin sleep mates didn't have body odors! Nor snore loudly!

One advice for first time traveler is beware of very limited storage room for baggages in the cabin, so travel as light as possible.

Final words. Please don't let my caution discourage you from this great holiday destination. Although most of the tourists we met were younger than us I believe physically fit older people can enjoy the many encounters. The Australian couple didn't trek. Instead they rented a motorbike and moved independently. I believe the key to a great holiday is freedom to express and enjoy what is available and not be inhibited by caution. I may not re-visit Hanoi and that is not because I didn't like it, in fact it gave me fond memories of people, food and sceneries. As I visit other holiday destinations I will compare what each has to offer and how we who are different culturally can admire and respect each other. Hanoi, thank you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Deciding on Dell XPS 8300

I am a fast decision maker but not after serious and in-depth study. Wanting to get a new PC with fast processor has been my desire but tempered by keeping redundancy in check. I already have one each of desktop, laptop and tablet plus a smartphone so I need to rationalize my 'stable' of equipment. I am fortunate to be quite mobile so why am I wanting to be stuck with a desktop purchase? Firstly I realize I seldom need a laptop except for the occasional presentation, which I can easily borrow one. With more laptop rather than desktop sales that should not be a problem. So with my Vostro as good as dead my decision is to either not replace it, or replace it with a desktop or another tablet. The decision is easy. My current desktop which runs under XP is 8 years old and my iPad under a year old. And my preference is for a larger monitor for my aging eyes as well as watch movies.

The XPS 8300 has very good reviews which helps me choose it. Although I felt disappointed my Vostro only last 3 years 8 months, I was told it exceeded the average lifespan of a laptop. I was also told that Dell provides the best and most responsive after sale tech support within the terms of the warranty purchased, which I never exercise (good news really) for my Vostro. The tech support, including the helpful live chat pre-purchase, gave me confidence that I am dealing with personalized service personnel.

So this morning I ordered my new baby which will be delivered within the month. I've already decided where to place it, where to relocate my old desktop and how they will be used (old PC to be assigned as educational tool for the grandchildren although I doubt they will choose it over the iPad due to poorer appeal).

Cost and configuration? Not saying now but when it arrives I hope to write a short impression review.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Winnable versus Capable

Over the weekend Seremban was visited by top political leaders from both side of the political divide, including the prime minister and his deputy, a sure sign that election is round the corner. 10 days ago the prime/finance minister delivered an election budget for 2012 in which he gave out monetary gifts to poor families, school going children and students. I've never felt comfortable with such wastage but that's how we see the political game being played out unashamedly. This is money politics or bribery at its worst. The latest buzzword used by the prime minister early this year was 'winnable'. He wants candidates who can win elections not necessary those who can serve. Their backgrounds and characters or abilities are inconsequential. So long as they get votes and win seats for the coalition is all that matters. This will result in the PM approving a list of candidates who are popular with the voters, personable and clever in winning hearts. Have we gone astray in our desire to be a developed nation? Is this a talent or beauty contest?

Malaysia seriously need credible and capable politicians who can provide leadership in steering the nation out of several hotspots centering on our lack of competitiveness, racial disharmony, brain drain, moral decay and declining education standard. We must only vote in candidates we can trust to carry out their tasks of nation building and not stoop low to canvass for favors using cash handouts and granting permits and licences as rewards for scratching their backs.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hanoi Holiday Photo Gallery - Our Final Day


This is the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which is under renovation


This is the One Pillar Pagoda nearby the mausoleum


My favourite local beer


Pole ladders of long house


Outdoor water puppet show stage


Black HMong students?


It was raining when we visited the Temple of Literature


The rain stopped for this picture


We flew off the next day, October 14. Here Wai Har enjoys what Air Asia don't provide, video entertainment.

Hanoi Holiday Photo Gallery - Sapa Trekking Day


We're ready for our 12km trek this morning


I caught this guy still sleeping at 10am!


OK the guide is close by


Hey guide, wait up!


We need tickets to enter this minority people reserve area


This little girl was just standing on the rice grains starring at me when I took this shot, and gave her father 2,000 dong for the permission.


It may be uncomfortable but this picture records our presence in Sapa


Hang in there, the village is just ahead, 4km more


My face is turning reddish


We passed several HMong kids on their way somewhere


Notice this boy is too poor to afford a pair of sandal


On a sunny day farmers are happy


The little boy is oblivious of his parent's hard life


No work, no food


Actually this picnic lunch is not bad, better than some dinners


This road is unwalkable but we just did


The HMong classroom is in better shape than some of our urban schools


Every child has his or her record book


We left Sapa this evening and arrived Lao Cai, enjoying this beer


Tonight we share cabin with the Australian couple we met on the Cat Cat trekking trail near where I bought my belt

Hanoi Holiday Photo Gallery - Sapa


Not looking forward to sleeping here


Lovely Fansipan mountain range behind us the morning of our arrival


We just love this continental breakfast


With banana pancake and honey


And choice of this, pho ga (chicken)


Or pho bo (beef)


Our hotel, Bamboo Sapa (no, it wasn't made from bamboo)


Typical view of Sapa buildings


View of the Cat Cat village valley


The guide is faster than us. Slow down!


We forgot our sunglasses, caps and sunblock


Sapa dogs have the best life, eat and sleep


Right now I'd like to be inside a car!


The waterfall is a nice spot to rest


I never expect to be buying my next belt here!


Carefree childhood


Sapa town square


Famed landmark, first catholic church in Sapa


View from our Bamboo Sapa Hotel room

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