Monday, February 27, 2012

My S7 is Family Now



Well, not exactly to everyone but slowly others are getting to hold it, try it and use it. The first was of course Andrew. He caught me using it a few days back and his curiosity arose, tried to touch it and take it. In his mind he was thrilled by a 'baby' iPad although he had been using a even smaller baby, his dad's iPhone, but the S7 is new and easier to use. I had earlier installed a Turn Off app which quickly switch off the screen to standby mode rather than use the hard to locate button. Andrew didn't protest and soon went his way.

It has been nearly a week now so what's with the S7 that I like and dislike?

The start up time is under 30 seconds but it takes another 30-60 seconds for the device to detect the wifi signal. The S7 is less sensitive than the iPad at the same distance from the router. It also have a higher tendency to drop signal but when securely connected it download fast. I have no issue with this department.

What I have issue is the absence of a Google Calendar app. Worse, I could not locate the Calendar and Contacts under my Gmail account to sync to my S7. Only the Picasa Album is visible. Without my calendar detectable I cannot install either the first or third party calendar app to organize my appointments and upcoming events and have them sync to my other devices. Searching for a solution I resort to the Android Forums on the Net and one suggest that perhaps if I carry out a Factory Reset I will cure this problem. I was desperate as I really wanted my Calendar on every device I carry so I FR my S7 knowing that it will remove all the apps I installed from the Market, including data installed or downloaded, especially ebooks. I took the risk and the outcome? The problem did not go away. I took a precaution to write down the installed apps so with time on my hand re-download and installed them. The exercise also give me the chance to tidy up my desktop to make it more pleasant so it wasn't a totally failed effort. My solution to get around this issue is quite simple really. I opened up my Google Calendar from the built-in browser and shortcut the URL to my desktop. Viola! I have my calendar now but not as user friendly as I like. It runs from the browser rather than the app. Better than nothing.

The past few days I searched for ebooks and some games to read and play in my spare time. I installed WattPad which has thousands of free ebooks to download. I also downloaded Kobo and Aldiko which have both free and for purchase ebooks. The collections are quite extensive and varied. For games, how can I exclude the Angry Birds? For Andrew's sake I had all 3 free versions installed, as well as a few other games I tested and like. Frankly the Apple App Store have better selections I think.

The main problem with the S7 is the short battery life, under 5 hours. I suppose it takes getting use to. I had installed Batter Saver to intelligently manage the energy consumption to extend battery life. As long as I don't play too much video and games I think the battery will last longer if the S7 is used mostly for listening to music, reading ebooks and emails. And to introduce a variety to my desktop appearance I have downloaded many nice wallpapers (no I am no fan of live wallpapers, beside being distractive they also drain the batter faster) to fit the screen size.

The S7 is now in a stable state which takes my mind to the next issue, a case/stand to enhance my companionship with the latest family member. Sadly all the cases/stands for 7" tablets are mostly for the Amazon Kindle or Samsung Tab with very few models for lesser known brands. My upcoming US trip will give me a chance to test drive suitable cases/stands with my S7.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My 7" Tablet Arrived



The Sowill OIOI S7 7" Tablet I ordered from Groupon Malaysia for RM468 (USD150) arrived yesterday and I was excited with my new 'toy'. Over the past months my iPad had become the 'property' of my grandson Andrew and my wife so when the offer came I thought I should try it out and if I don't like it I'll pass it to my grandchildren to use. As a person unwilling to throw good money into a purchase I'm unsure will have a lasting use I decided to carry out this 'experiment' of a relatively unknown brand. At the moment the most popular model in this mid size tablet range is Samsung Galaxy Tab P1000 which is now superseded by the Tab 7 Plus, and now the Tab 7.7 which are 3-4 times more expensive.

The S7 is China made (yes, even iPad is China made so we should not be biased) by Sowill (Shenzhen Technology Co. Ltd). Upon unpacking I found a small 18 page user manual which is not very informative and, excuse my prejudice, contain grammatical errors. Notwithstanding them I found the instructions understandable.

My first contact was when I held up the S7. It felt heavy (rated 410g or over 14 oz) on one palm. Its size is also big, 205 x 116 x 13.8mm (8 x 4.5 x 0.55 inch). For comparison the Tab 7.7 is 196.7 x 133 x 7.9mm and weighs 340g.

I had not expected the S7 to be in the league of the Samsung Tabs and certainly nowhere near to iPad and I was right. For that price I would be asking too much and like I said it was an experimental purchase. My main use will be to access my emails, check online news, browse YouTube, listen to music, share pictures and watch videos saved on my microSDHC card (can accept up to 32Gb capacity). The Sowill people does not term it as such, they still use the older term TF (transflash) card.

The S7 runs on Android OS version 2.2 (Froyo) which was the same as installed on my Galaxy Ace smartphone I bought 10 months ago (upgraded to 2.3 Gingerbread several months back) so I expect an easy learning curve. It was not to be because the proprietary architecture over the Android OS is different from the Galaxy Ace, is less user friendly so I took over 8 hours to learn its features and still learning. My initial disappointments were in the layout of the buttons and their design. The power and volume buttons on the top right edge were too close and recessed to give user a feel where they are. I think even a blind person will find it hard to locate them. In the dark this is definitely a problem. Secondly unlike the iPad which uses a slider to wake up the gadget, the S7 requires the power button to be pressed when it goes to sleep. And the volume max out too low. When I want to listen to a louder song I can't. And as expected the audio quality is average, the audio port is tight for the jack to be pushed in.

S7 has a nice camera of 2Mp resolution but it face toward the user which is to me useless. How do I take a picture if I cannot preview it on my screen which face the same direction? Seems the manufacturer wants the user to take lots of his own photos! If the camera layout is to serve as a webcam for video calls, the answer is no, the S7 does not allow Skyping or other messaging services. Sorry.

Screen resolution at 1024 x 600 is pretty OK. The S7 received many good reviews which is why I bought it. I suppose I was also influenced by the fact that it was the office tablet for the Universiade Shenzhen 2011, an international sporting event like the Olympics. The other worrying factor is the battery which drains out quite fast in less than 5 hours continuous use. Maybe others may find it acceptable but if you are stuck on a long flight without a chance to recharge the battery it will be a definite problem. The worst news is the battery cannot be replaced. Read the reviews HERE. If the S7 can last for 2-3 years I think it is a fair deal but if the battery dies well before that and out of the 1 year warranty period then too bad for the buyer.

Well, I am still getting used to the S7. Although I may be slightly critical I see it as a good introductory gadget for people who cannot afford the more expensive brands. For me my preference is for a bigger smartphone, like the 4.3" HTC Amaze that my son bought recently and the 9.7" iPad which after over a year is a very comfortable equipment to carry about, view and use. My next target, the iPad3 with 64Gb storage and 3G. Yeh!

PS. After I ordered my S7 Groupon offered other generic brand 7" tablets also from China. The price are around what I paid but the specs, especially the screen resolution, is poorer. I guess I should lower my satisfaction bar a little.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

Enjoy this videoclip:



If you are Malaysian or a follower of Malaysian political developments this song probably reflect the ongoing battle between the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional and the rising opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat. Do you believe that Pakatan has the resource and capability to deliver on its promise that it can and will be able to provide a better future for all Malaysians? Can it do better than Barisan which has ruled the nation for the past 54 over years? Some people I spoke to have no confidence but others are so disillusioned that a change is due. As the popular phrase goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it, which means literally if things are going along well why look for a change? Many people think that Malaysia is already broke so a change is required. Problem is some people think that the expected change may be short-changed so they rather live with the status quo. They think we are too entrenched into our present culture that a new government will not be able to reverse the trend, which means it cannot deliver on the promise of change. As good as not trusting the good doctor to cure a terminally ill patient. Another way of looking is that since they are a part of the corruption culture they are not ready to give it up.

Others feel that the status quo will only allow the country to sink deeper by letting its wealth to be plundered and stripped until we are really in severe debt. The thinking of this group is the ruling coalition is unconcerned over the future of the nation but wants another term to enrich themselves. This fear is quite real which explains the campaigns to discredit Barisan by listing a long list of misdeeds and scandals that brought scorn and anger.

However the concern that Pakatan is not yet ready is real, with its loose coalition constantly disagreeing on fundamental issues of Islamic laws and power distribution when they do come into power. Pakatan is a very young and untested coalition so should we trust them to rule us? On the other hand can we afford to give Barisan one more term? It is a dilemma many worried Malaysians face. It is natural for some to react by saying better to trust a known devil than a novice who promises radical revamp of the systems that created so much ills.

The biggest question is can we trust Pakatan and is it worthwhile to risk our future by giving them one term to show if they can do better? We do see many talented Pakatan lawmakers whose knowledge and skills we can trust. So far they have a few showpieces on display with good and bad impressions. The cream is Penang where it has become the standard for other states to emulate. The bad boy is Kedah where the Islamic rule has caused discords among the non-Muslims. In yesterday's high profile debate between the heads of the two Chinese-based political parties from both coalitions it was a bashing party to show who did worse rather than concentrating on the debate topic: Chinese at the Crossroads: Is the Two Party System Becoming a Two Race System? To many viewers it was more of witnessing the oratory skills of the debaters rather than the strength of their arguments. Both are very good with the MCA president showing his experience and craftiness and the DAP secretary-general more passionate and sincere in wanting to bring about real change to the nation. In effect he is telling the MCA, anything MCA can do DAP can do better, and on the larger scale, to the voters, anything Barisan can do, Pakatan will rival it and outperform it if it is given a change to rule the nation. Penang is a good example but so is Kedah a poor one. Do we believe in Pakatan? Or do we say let Pakatan keep its states or maybe win another one or two more, but not to form the next federal government. Is this a safe arrangement? If we only let Pakatan win in 2018 will it be too late to save Malaysia from the plunderers or do we buckle up and take a 'gamble' to trust Pakatan?

The power is in the hands of all eligible Malaysian voters. Think carefully and make sure you cast your votes in this upcoming landmark general election to be called anytime between now and May 2013.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is Our Judiciary Finally Awakening?

Recently a retired chief justice of Malaysia claimed HERE that former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir was responsible for 'forcing' the judges to 'take orders' from politicians by passing new laws that make the judiciary arm answerable to Parliament instead of being independent, which of course Dr M denied HERE. Following that de facto law minister Nazri Aziz admitted there was some truth to the allegation in THIS report. Legal expert Aziz Bari blamed the judges for allowing their authority to be eroded as reported HERE and not to complain.

Pakatan jumped at the opportunity and promise that it will restore the judiciary to its pre-1988 status as reported HERE if elected to power.

Today I read two interesting developments that may point to a soon to happen revival of judicial power coming strongly from the high courts. I think the above development signal the timing for judges to act as arbiters rather than followers, to be fearless in ruling accurately and independent of any political influences especially from the top brass.

The first is the anti-Lynas campaign which is now gathering momentum. The judge will have to decide if he should rule in favor of the government or the plaintiffs. In effect it is a battle between the powerful and the helpless affected residents. The judge must carefully decide on the case and not become a 'political stooge' again if he believe the case belongs to the people.

The second case of even greater significance to the government especially prime minister Najib Razak is the blockage by a group of FELDA settlers against the transfer of FELDA Holding shares to FELDA Global Venture which plans to list FELDA on the stock exchange. If this succeed it will be a major setback and embarrassment to Najib who was very sure of the listing timeline. It will also be a victory to Pakatan.

Another test case of smaller proportion but stealing some limelight recently is that of a businessman going on hunger strike to force the Pahang state government to pay him the RM70 million damage accorded to his company. It would appear that the state government is challenging the judicial decision or is delaying payment.

In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see how many court cases will be delivered to warrant an impression that our judges are now reclaiming their power they once lost. The most sensational release of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy charge by a high court judge has been appealed by the Attorney General. Will the appeal fail?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Crazy BIG SALE Deal



Last night for some reason I couldn't sleep. Perhaps I was engrossed in ripping my DVD and Video CD collections for viewing on my iPad and soon to arrive 7" tablet. I am 'forced' to get the 7" gadget in part because I like the size after I peeked at a similar sized unit (I think it was a Samsung Tab) held by a teen sitting next to me on a flight back to KLIA recently, and also because my iPad is now more used by Andrew, my 2 year old grandson, and my wife. Maybe my share is a third now, which gives me a valid reason to buy the soon-to-be-launched iPad3 in the States (my wife and I will be there in April so the timing is perfect) for my own use. Heh, heh.

I called up the email AirAsia sent me about the BIG SALE deal starting midnight February 15, that is some 11 hours ago, and I thought that I should try to go for a getaway break with my wife to Kota Kinabalu where we've not been before. Frankly I was not overly excited or confident of getting a good deal, AirAsia often over promote and gave just a few heavily discounted seats to comply with their offers. At 2.30am I got in, the traffic wasn't heavy then, and managed to book a flight+hotel package for 3D/2N costing RM471.65 all-in for my wife and I. I thought it was pretty good and 2 hours later I tried for the fun of testing and found the same itinerary had gone up 30% to 611.65. I was glad I got in fast and cheap. Another hour later the Air Asia website had become overloaded. It pays to be an early bird.

Sometimes I wonder if this sort of promotion will work elsewhere, like Australia or Europe, where people will stay up late just to get a good discount. Maybe if it happened it will be mainly Asians doing it? Well we will be in KK come September and like past holidays I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we will have a good time and to blog about it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cleaning Up My Garden

Since getting an electric lawn mower over a week ago, my garden had been mowed twice and fertilized once. The next mowing and fertilizing will be this weekend. Last weekend I drove to a nearby nursery with a set of weeds I collected from my garden. I wanted to find if there is any weedkiller that can selectively kill them without killing the grass. As expected the answer was no, no such chemical exist. Like chemotherapy knocking out cancerous cells also destroy the good ones. The advice is to manually clean them up while continuing the mowing and fertilizing regime. It demands perseverance and patience. Either I do it myself, with my wife helping out occasionally, or contract foreign workers to do the task. I decided to undertake this labour of love, in part also to keep fit. When I get a maid we will share out the work.

Over the past week I have started work as a weed buster, working only before the sun gets hot, and in the evenings just before the sun set. And the weather lately has been very hot so I had to wear a wide brim straw hat to keep out the heat and light. I didn't realize how weedy my garden had become after years of neglect. With determination I believe it can be rehabilitated. For now my right forefinger is sore from plucking the weeds loosened up using a tiny rake I bought especially for the job. The garden looks like a badly infected scalp with bare patches here and there. I will have to transplant small clumps of good grass to these patches and water them to eventually cover up the bare ground.

Why am I doing this? To pass time as well as get it ready for my grandchildren to romp and play on it, even to camp in it if they want to.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney Died



It is with sadness that I read of the passing away of a music icon, Whitney Houston, several hours ago at the age of 48. As reported HERE she died from drug overdose which has been her struggle over the past decade she tried hard but failed to overcome. I don't know if there is a similarity with Michael Jackson's death with was found to be drug overdose induced by his doctor but the trigger of early death probably from several common premises - inability to handle fame, wealth, loss of public image, self esteem and ageing and perhaps domestic issues.

I remember in the mid 80s when she shot to fame, another popular female artiste Madonna was rivaling her for the spot of most popular female singer. Whitney banked on her faith and religious background, coming from a family rooted in Christianity, to declare she would provide a better role model than Madonna could. It is a pity that a bad marriage as well as drug addiction broke her life that it has to end this way. Whitney may be gone but her voice will pervade the music world for decades to come. My personal favorite is 'I Will Always Love You' from her movie 'The Bodyguard' she starred with Kevin Costner. And I believe this is what millions of her fans is saying the same to her now, Whitney we will always love you. If you could I know you would not choose to go this way. RIP.

SOKOGIM Launched



Yesterday afternoon my wife and I joined a group of Christians at the newly opened centre in Taman SEA, Petaling Jaya, to celebrate the launch of the SOKOGIM ministry started by my brother Rev. Yew Nieng Song. SOKOGIM is the acronym for Sons of the Kingdom of God International Movement emphasizing Jesus Christ's Mission Statement of 'Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand.'

SOKOGIM's mission statement is to call people to return to God's original intent and purpose for which Jesus came to restore, to call people to turn from own self seeking to instead seek the priority of God for our lives that we might understand and know God's original intent, and purposes, and enter into His assignment for our lives, to establish the School of the Kingdom of God to enable seekers of the Kingdom of God to be equipped to disciple the saints so that each can be presented mature in Christ for His works, and to raise up sons of the Kingdom of God so that each and together we may understand what is the Kingdom of God and its expressions, and possess the Kingdom of God in our lives in the here and now as in eternity.

SOKOGIM envisioned that God's Kingdom will come and that His will will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, as it is taught by Jesus to his followers in the prayer called the Lord's Prayer.

SOKOGIM meets every Saturday at 4.30pm at its premise at 25, Tingkat 2, Kompleks SEA Park (previously Puncak Semerah Sdn Bhd office), Jalan 21/22, Section 21, 46300 Petaling Jaya. More details regarding SOKOGIM and its activities are available from Rev. Yew at +6017 3305114 or sokogimembassy@gmail.com.

If you are like me, asking what really is the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven used interchangeably) I know Rev. Yew will be most happy to expound it to any seeker. Even as a Christian my limited understanding of the meaning of KOG is one where we can live out the kind of life even on earth what we can experience in Heaven. And what is that kind of life? The answer I believe lie in giving yourself a chance to hear the message and understand.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

39 Years Today



I married my wife in a simple civil registry ceremony in Lumut Perak witnessed by our mothers. I was working for a federal government agency and my wife a nurse. Through the years we stayed loyal to our career and to each other, moving houses more often than our jobs and setting up family for 3 young children who are themselves now married and with kids of their own, or soon to have. Looking back it has been a marriage of building a future and today, 39 years later, I thank God we did build one that we have absolutely no complain. In fact we feel we have so much more than many couples like us. To suggest that our marriage is blissfully perfect is not telling the truth. We learn to accept the good and the not so good. I believe a good marriage is one that deals with reality rather than fantasy or fairy tales. As we head towards our 40th anniversary we feel energized by the grandchildren around us and who visit us as well as the one we will see soon.

We had a simple celebration, a dinner in town last night (our caterer resumed delivering food today after a long Chinese New Year break). Nothing elaborate for that is my wife's preference. What pleases us most is the well-being and happiness of our children and grandchildren and that I admit has been a God-given blessing all these years. Happy anniversary, Mama, and many more to come, wishing you good health and happiness everyday.

Will Gebeng Make History?

Last Sunday I asked a friend who said he'd be driving to Kuantan to pass time. He likes driving to nowhere and stopping at small towns to check out the popular food they sell. I jokingly asked him to check out Gebeng for me. He asked, "Gebeng what?" Obviously he wasn't following the news or he did only when I mentioned Lynas did the two names connect. I said I'd like to know if Gebeng is polluted with radioactive waste. Of course it was a joke. Lynas hasn't even started operating, but if the temporary operating licence issued by the Atomic Energy Licensing Authority is not revoked, residents, businesses and visitors to Gebeng will become involved in what may be the country's most lethal zone insofar as industrial pollution is concerned, and nobody is able to say with any confidence, backed by authoritative knowledge, that what Lynas brings to Gebeng is only employment opportunities.

I googled Gebeng to know where this famous location is. It is on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia north of Kuantan some 45 minutes drive or 60km away. Now to the south of Kuantan some 120km away is the Pekan town. Malaysians who are politically conscious will know that Pekan is the parliamentary constituency of the prime minister Najib Razak. He ought to be aware of trouble brewing in his backyard and his home state, Pahang. About 60km north of Gebeng is the very popular tourist destination, Cherating Club Med. I am not about to be a scaremonger but people must be aware how very close this hot potato is to the places I mentioned. I am puzzled why factory owners in Gebeng, especially those foreign owned, are keeping quiet over their new neighbor, or they did but wasn't publicised. I am also puzzled why residents nearby didn't exercise their anxieties via peaceful protests. I am surprised why hotel operators are sitting oblivious to the potential harm Lynas can do to its industry. Perhaps everybody is waiting for trouble to take place before acting.

Many of us remember Chernobyl, Bhopal, Three Mile Island and recently Fukushima where spillage and leakage of nuclear radioactive wastes create contamination of food, caused deformities in foetus, early death and sharp rise in cancers. It is no surprise that such news have created anxieties and fueled opposition to any construction of plants that involves processing or creation of radioactive materials. While Gebeng may be a much smaller risk but it still pose risks nonetheless. Should Lynas be allowed to operate as licensed several spillover effects may occur, among them:

1. Residents moving out of Gebeng and its vicinity
2. Tourism will be affected
3. Disruption of economic activities
4. Property devaluation

It is unwise to push through approving the Lynas operation. The government may have to pay a penalty for revoking the permit but doing so save Gebeng and the nation. Lynas is a grave mistake the government made, possibly out of greed.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Chap Goh Meh

The Hokkien community calls today chap goh meh which means the 15th night and signals the close of the lunar new year. Over the past 15 days the moon had grown to its fullness tonight making it a romantic sight to behold especially if it is a clear and cloudless sky packed with an array of stars to dance before our eyes. The past weeks have been rainy in the late afternoon but last night the moon came out to display her soft glow. I hope tonight the weather will be kind for us to gaze upward, enjoy the 'night sun' and say goodbye to the celebration. Today happens to be a public holiday too, so many families are reunited. I hope there will be fun, laughter, embraces, clapping and remembrance. Most of all I hope we can be thankful that times are still good for many of us, but to remember and help the needy in our midst.

CGM also signify time to go back to serious work, to earn hard money and improve the livelihood of those at home. For about a week before the new year the Chinese businesses will try to sau kung or literally pack up before the new year begins. Building contractors will stop work. The only Chinese businesses roaring into the new year are those selling gift hampers, barbequeing pork and yes, dancing into businesses and homes with their lion dance troops which now has teens from other races as well. Salaries and bonuses are normally paid early so that workers can buy food, new clothings, shoes, presents and set aside new notes to be given to young children and parents as a sign of prosperity and wish for a great year ahead. The Chinese treasures goodwill and will try to close off all debts so that the new year will start on a clean slate. But it is also inauspicious to ask for money so usually the debtors will do their best not to roll over old debts into the new year as it may bring bad luck. It is a perception but a healthy habit to start a new year clean.

So what is this tradition of casting tangerine into the lake by single ladies? It is held that by doing so and making a wish they will find suitable partners to marry. This tradition is popular in Penang with a majority Hokkien community and tonight the Esplanade will be the place to be to look out for the presence of a group of pretty girls doing their thing. Some may even go further out to sea in sampans and boats. Whoever thought this out must be an ingenious Hokkien businessman. This is a great tradition to consume surplus tangerine otherwise they will rot. Already many are getting sick of eating them. This year I ate alot, every day I will peel and eat at least one and the fruit is generally sweet with little or no spoilage. Some people advise against over eating as the fruit is 'heaty' and develop coughs.

Tonight the sight of young girls writing secret messages on the skin and throwing the orange into the water is something tourists will enjoy watching as this tradition is unique to the Hokkien Chinese. Even the locals enjoy it including those from other dialect groups and other races. If you are in such a place tonight, especially in Penang and Singapore, you will be witnessing a truly multicultural tolerant society. And today the lion dance troops will come out in full force to drum, clang and prance their way into the hearts of the celebrants and spectators of the unique and rich culture the Chinese offer the world. I am quite sure the various Chinatowns in UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere will be celebrating too. Once again, Kong Xi Fa Cai, until next year.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Jimmy, You Are Huge!

That was the remark fellow classmate Titus said to Jimmy who came back for a family visit from Canada. He was of course just naughty, like when we were in school and no one, not the least Jimmy took offense. Jimmy wasn't huge, just that his stoutness gave a wrong horizontal impression. Titus, Jimmy, myself and another guy, KH, were classmates in 1965 and when we left school we were like sparkles that splintered our own ways. As our careers ended we look forward to reconnect so today we did, in Kajang. My wife and I arrived early, at the Prescott Metro Inn's Muar Coffee House, the venue suggested by Titus who got lost and arrived last. He blamed it on the new traffic so I suggested a GPS. It isn't flawless but at least it gets you to your destination somehow. I can be forcefully direct with Titus because we were classmates and that is a special privilege. Titus who was reticent when we first met him at the November 2010 reunion is a lot more sociable and open now and that is a good thing. Perhaps he prefer smaller groups.

Jimmy migrated to Canada in 1990 and became citizen 10 years later. From his story it sounded like moving down another block whereas to me migration is a life long decision process as important as getting married, but the way Jimmy explained, it was just pack up and go. Perhaps his outlook explains why he spots a jovial look and packs an infectious laughter. Except for some recession his hair is as dark as night. Unfortunately his wife didn't come along but my wife made herself part of the gang although she didn't belong except to be a gracious companion to me. Thanks WH.

Over a drink at the coffee house we chatted for an hour before moving to a popular satey (barbequed chicken/beef) joint 3 minutes walking distance for our lunch and was glued to our chairs for 2 hours. Conversation was light and easy flowing, there were many things to share. Soon it was time to say goodbye, 3 hours to make up for 45 lost years. I've put out feelers to gauge reactions for a 50th anniversary class reunion in 2015. Nearly half the class responded in the positive, and I await the rest to open their mailboxes or to be contacted. As usual some will need a little push or persuasion.

Here are a few pictures for remembrance.







Saturday, February 04, 2012

1Care Becoming 1Scare

Looks like Malaysians from all walks of life will soon be bombed with this medical insurance health scare scheme that was not made public knowledge until recently and it is now in the final stage of fine tuning it before it is presented to Parliament for reading and eventually gazetted into law. Why would any citizen be unaffected or be indifferent? Again it is going to dig into their pockets because like in the UK or USA where such schemes are already in place every living soul MUST purchase medical insurance to receive medical care, failing which they will either be denied treatment, no matter how critical or urgent the situation is, or relegated to low priority unless these patients have privileged connection to powerful or authoritative figures. If you have watched the movie John Q starring Denzel Washington you know how an explosive situation can blow up when you feel your rights to healthcare especially when a loved one is critically ill is denied because you have no medical insurance. You can see it as discrimination but an emotional person can take drastic actions like take hostages to get attention and service. Will such a scenario occur in Malaysia?

We are heading towards public disenchantment that cuts across the board. Employers beware. You too will be made to pay for your workers and executives medical insurance, and those already doing so may have to revise the policies to comply with the new requirements of 1Care. Self-employed people must now buy new coverages which may be tied to age groups, the older you are the higher the premium. This information is still hidden from public knowledge. Pensioners and retirees who receive free or cheap medical treatments from government hospitals and clinics must now be insured, if not by themselves, by their sponsors, children or relatives. Sickly people and those living near to or below the margin of poverty will be hardest hit, and they include their families who pay their medical bills which will be higher than for an averagely healthy person. The despair will be great. What happens to the People First Performance Now sloganeering of the Najib 3 year old administration? What's happening appear more like People Last Profit First.

If the basic rights to basic healthcare without financial burden are denied then other forms of finding treatments will emerge, which may include off duty consultation off the record. Family, patients, care providers and professionals, can get really creative to overcome the uninsured cases. A new undercover scheme will emerge bypassing the government scheme. Whether it is food or healthcare, when people are forced into a corner they will look for, and always find alternative solutions to have themselves and their families fed and treated. You can say it is unethical, unprofessional or even immoral but when it comes to surviving a system that is out to get you, many people who cannot afford don't really care.

There is still hope the lawmakers will feel the pain of their constituents to throw the bill back to the government for a revamp. Don't let 1Care destroy the spirit of a caring Malaysia we know since independence.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Bad Loan Idea by the EPF

As a statutory body formed to manage the savings of millions of Malaysians for their post retirement use as well as for funding their first house purchase, supporting education of their children or pay for critical illness bills, the EPF is accountable to its members to invest their savings carefully, cautiously and in their long term interest since their investments are locked away for 30 years or more for young salary earners. It is a well known knowledge that the biggest borrower of EPF funds is the Malaysian government because it is cheap. The EPF does not declare good dividends simply because it is not getting good borrowing interests from the government which always look upon this as a convenient backup cheap domestic financier of its projects. It somehow controls the EPF board on how their funds are to be invested, in the local stock exchange, to the government or in foreign equities. Both the EPF and Petronas are the largest source of funds that the government can tap into for its mega projects which are often trumpeted as for the well being of the people.

THIS latest fiasco is again going to blow up against the government, this time touching the raw nerves of savers in the EPF which they are required to do so by law. Currently some 25% of a contributor's salary inclusive of his employer's portion must be remitted into his EPF account which he can only withdraw partially upon reaching his 50th birthday and the rest upon his retirement. That money is like a pot of gold a contributor anxiously await to seize control. The government has 'forced' the EPF to set aside RM1.5 billion to lend to borrowers that commercial banks have rejected for various reasons, chiefly either absence of collateral or guarantor or the property is not in their list of approved projects.

Reading the response from the prime minister to allay public concerns I feel his reply is over-simplistic and lacks understanding of the worries these contributors face. In the first place it is no business of EPF to be a financier. Its main role is to be an investor so the RM1.5 billion housing loan project is wrong. I don't know if the EPF made the independent decision or was forced into it. It appear to be the latter and that the EPF is beholden more to the government than protect the interest of the contributors. As members they have statutory rights to know and approve how their savings are being invested. This is currently not happening as there is no empowerment given to them via a group. The EPF cannot be a social organization which it is not. It was not established to be one. It is a purpose driven fund manager and its clients are all the Malaysians who by law have to contribute to the EPF fund. The big question is whether the EPF Board have erred in investing RM1.5 billion not to a few major borrowers of credible track records but become a lender to thousands of Malaysians (and possibly some foreigners as well) of dubious credit standing. I am not against helping the poor but it must come from the government, through a social well-being project and using budgets approved by the Parliament and certainly not hijacking private savings in the EPF to which the government must not have any say to dictate the way it is to be invested.

Malaysians who have borrowed from the government have been notorious in NOT paying back the loans, chief among them students who took loans to further their studies, others who took micro credits to start small businesses, fail and disappeared. Their thinking must be the government is loaded so can afford to write off such defaulting loans or the government is lax or worst, the government is racially biased. To the public the defaults cost the government to write off hundreds of millions of ringgit which eventually can be said to belong to the taxpayers since the government owns no money except those they receive through taxes and royalties. Federal Territory and Urban Well-Being Minister assured that the government is the guarantor of any defaulting loans so the EPF is protected. But whose money will be used to cover such defaults? You already know I'm sure. Imagine the likely scenario:

'A' borrows RM50,000 to buy a house using the EPF loan. He pays RM5,000 and defaulted the rest. The government guarantees EPF the RM45,000 owed by 'A'. What does this suggest to 'A'? Default lah! The government has guaranteed to repay his outstanding loan. So far no one has gone to jail for not settling a government loan.

Next the PM was quoted as saying, 'If a buyer is unable to or does not repay the loan, the unit can be sold for a higher price. We always safeguard the interests of the EPF'.

If this is indeed true then I suggest the PM talk to his banker brother Dato Seri Nazir Razak. Any one who knows how a bank works know that when a housing loan is defaulted the bank puts up the property for auction. The interest is to recover the bank's outstanding loan from the borrower, NOT to auction at the highest or market price of the property. Furthermore bidders always look for a bargain so how to get the highest or real market price? The PM must be dreaming or pulling a fast one. Even if the property market is inflationary it will be mostly to those in the high end sector like the commercial buildings and condominiums, not those medium to low cost houses which is the contentious issue now which can blow over into an unfavorable reaction at the upcoming election. In Malaysia, people are very money sensitive, especially THEIR money.

Below are samples of what I picked up from some commentors to the above issue, and they are obviously very, very unhappy and infuriated:

DON'T TOUCH MY (EPF) MONEY...if you do...I will show you how I vote in the coming GE. Layoff man...or you gonna get it.

If they can't afford to buy a house, they should just continue renting! No shame in that. This scheme is a disaster waiting to happen -- putting a financial burden on those who simply cannot afford! DBKL can't event collect rent -- let alone collect a loan!

EPF money does not belong to the government but to the rakyat. Ministers and their croonies may not required the EPF money as they are "rich" but the poor rakyat depend on their EPF after they retire, therefore, please leave the EPF money alone! I thought by listing Felda, its going to generate millions if not billion, then why not use this money??? What happen to the increase tax collected over the years??? LEAVE MY EPF MONEY ALONE!!!!!!

Leave EPF money alone. If this loan is so secured, get a financial institution to fund it then.

This is outrageous. How can this be allowed? EPF funds don't belong to the government but to contributors.

If you really want to help people then why not use government's own money? Why ask EPF to fund it?


Update February 4: THIS report from the Opposition's reaction is very well echoed. I admire the depth and honesty of the arguments presented in comparison to the lame excuses given by our top executive.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Restoring My Poor Garden

My garden is 12 years old and the cow grass has seen better days. There are maybe just 50% grass and the rest weeds and bare soil, all because of poor maintenance and invasion by weeds from my neighbors who did not maintain their gardens as well. It is discouraging to try to restore my garden to its earlier prime but this perception changed when my adjacent neighbor, who bought over the property last year, decided to build a mid height wall (at my request) to prevent creepers from overhanging over to my side of the property. This barrier will help stop or minimize crossover of weeds into my garden. With this in mind I become more optimistic that I can get back my old garden which I seriously think needed a total makeover. I was thinking of stripping all the grass and top soil down to perhaps 6" and then replace it with new layers of sand and free-draining topsoil before putting on turfs of pre-grown pure cow grass. I was willing to spend the money.

I contacted a landscape contractor specializing in laying lawn grass. Upon sighting my garden, his immediate comment was, 'why do you want to change?' My immediate thought was, 'huh? don't you want my business?' As it turns out he was more of trying to help than make easy money out of me which I appreciated very much (he had driven 25km from his nursery to my house to inspect the garden and gave me his free opinion). He gave me this precious advice:

Your old garden can be restored if you will spend time and effort to apply fertilizer fortnightly and trim the grass weekly to blunt and eliminate most of the weeds.

I used to mow my own lawn until 7 years ago when problem from my back gave me the excuse to stop and depend on contractor gardeners to cut the grass once a month or so. I still do but the service does not include maintenance. You can say that I did not love my garden all these years, and my late dog used to defecate in it, making me dislike working on it even more. Now I have no excuse, plus my back is not as bad as before. And it will be good exercise too.

This afternoon I went mower hunting and taking into consideration my age, the size of my garden and that I still need to care for my garden for at least 5 more years, I need a machine that is lightweight, comes with a catcher, cut close to the ground and to the edge, and of low maintenance. Well I found my answer in the Bosch Rotak 40 electric rotary lawn mower, a very sensible design and easy to operate, even a lady can do it since it take pressing a button to start the motor instead of yanking the starter cord. I am pleased with its quality as it is UK made. I even bought a 25kg bag of lawn fertilizer at the same outing. I am ready to rebuild my old garden to its pristine beauty, I hope.

I've already google calendered this entry: mow and fertilize lawn on Friday, February 3. That means tomorrow. It will be alternated by just mowing without fertilizing the following week. I hope that by the 3rd month I will begin to see the cow grass re-establish control of the turf and regain at least 90% of the area. With my grandchildren very outdoorish, especially Andrew, I think I owe it to them to have a safe garden to play in.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Cashing In On People's Interest

Another bone of contention has surfaced, this time hitting at every Malaysian because we all get sick at one time or another and at least once in a lifetime we get hospitalized. The painful issue is of course HEALTHCARE and the government now plans to introduce a new scheme called 1Care. Notice how unimaginative the government has become or how boring, every scheme it started in the last 2 years or so have bandwagoned on the 1Malaysia concept. 1 this 1 that. THIS report shows how frustrated and helpless we are becoming in the light of a new plan to increase the cost of healthcare.

Days ago I received the below report. I don't know how accurate it explains the scheme but the main concern is cost and service. The public must have access to public forums to understand the impact this scheme have on them. Healthcare has long being the domain of welfare services by the government but slowly but surely it has become commercialized until it shows that the government really does not care about the well being of the average Malaysian. My questions are: must we have to take this path to buy medical insurance to have our illnesses treated? Must we put a burden on those who are less healthy and therefore require more frequent visits to the doctors especially specialists? Do we need to change the model we are presently using? Isn't there a better way? The government must not rush into legislating this into an Act. The biggest losers will be the poor and average income families as well as those who are prone to get sick. Have a heart.

Salient points – 1Care

1. The government plans to introduce a new healthcare system called 1Care. It includes an insurance system to fund for healthcare.

2. The National Healthcare Financing Authority will be in charge of 1Care – and it is likely to be turned into a GLC.

3. Based on available information, every household will be made to pay up to 9.4% of gross household income for social health insurance. The payers will be the individual, the employer and the government via taxes, exact proportion still being worked out.

4. There shall be no choice. Everyone has to pay. There is no opting out. We have to pay upfront. It will no longer be fee-for-service; it is fee-before-service.

5. There has been no information on exactly how this payment will have to be made or how the government will collect from self-employed people.

6. The government will be expected to contribute to the insurance premiums of government pensioners, civil servants and five dependants.

7. But the problem is: 1Care does not cover all your medical expenses. Only for a prescribed basic list of what “you can have” healthcare items. Anything more than basic you will have to pay your own.

8. Your long-serving independent family doctor will have to join the system or will not be allowed to see you under the 1Care scheme. The robust, cost-effective independent clinics serving the country will be replaced by 1Care clinics.

9. You cannot pick your own doctor. 1Care will allocate a doctor to you.

10. If you want to see a doctor of your choice, you’ll need to pay for that from your own pocket. Your allocated doctor will decide when and which specialist you can see if the need arises (a process called gate-keeping).

11. The NHFA will pay GPs RM60 (present proposal) for each patient as consultation fees. It does not include medicine. Compare this with presently, for cough and cold visit, the GP would charge RM20-RM30 for consultation and medicine. With 1Care: consultation for GP visit is RM60 and this does not include medicine.

12. You cannot see your doctor as and when you feel the need arises. There will be a rationing system in place as well. There will also be rationing for specialist care with the GP as the gate-keeper. Likewise if you wish to see the specialist of your choice or go to a hospital of your choice, unless referred by your allocated doctor, you will also have to pay out of your pocket.

13. Even if you only see the doctor once in a year, you will not get a refund from 1Care. Your medical costs are prepaid in advance irrespective of whether you become sick or not. You are also expected to make an additional co-payment for your visit. This is to discourage you from seeing doctors too often.


14. You will be prescribed only medicines from a standardised list of not-the-original medicines in keeping with WHO List of essential medications. This will save cost for 1Care and maximise profit for the insurance companies. Insurance companies will have major say in the price and the range of this standardized medicine list. It will likely to be the cheapest medicine.



15. The doctor will only give you injections. You’ll need to get all other medicines from a pharmacist, even if it means hauling three sick children with high fever along a hot, dusty busy street looking for the nearest pharmacy.



16. If you do not like what is given to you, you can get alternative care by paying out of your own pocket.

The Big Picture

  • Each year, we all pay a total of RM44.24 billion a year for healthcare – now called National Healthcare Hospitals and clinics (an integration of public hospitals and clinics, private hospitals and private GPs. which in essence is a privatisation of public and nationalisation of private healthcare facilities)
  • All this will now go under 1Care.
  • This means 1Care will get almost RM45 billion a year.
  • The administrative cost is likely to be 10% or about RM 4.5 billion

The Poor

Who will then care for the poor and the marginalised population when the private and public healthcare corporatize and turned into independent commercial entities each competing with the other for business and profits?

  • Public hospitals and clinics are service-driven will become corporatize/privatise and have to be profit-driven
  • So who will serve the people in remote places?
  • Who will serve the very poor people?

Situations

What happens when the government introduces 1Care?


The whole system of independent one-stop GPs will be restructured and converted into 1Care clinics like the UK NHS general practitioner system.

Before:

Ali has always having skin rashes for many years. He has to see his doctor once a month to get treatment. That would mean he will have to see his doctor 12 times a year just for this illness. What if he has other illnesses?

Now:

But now, Ali’s doctor has allocated only a budget equivalent to six visits a year. Regardless of how many time Ali would need for his yearly treatment. What happens then? A rationing system will kick in. If the doctor sees Ali too many time, his “P4P” (Pay for Performance) profile will be poor and he will be paid less.

To start with, Ali will probably cannot just walk in and expect to be treated. He will have to make an appointment. There will be a long waiting list. What if Ali needs to be treated for fever or some painful joints? He will also have to wait for his appointment. If he cannot wait and wants immediate treatment from another doctor he will have to pay on his own. This is what the NHS UK system is offering its patients.

Lim has an appointment to see his doctor over a knee ache. Just before his appointment, he has an ingrown toe nail that has become painful. At the clinic, after his doctor treats him for his knee ache, he asks his doctor if he could look into his ingrown nail. His doctor says “No, the system does not allow me to do that. You must make another appointment. This visit I can only treat and bill for your knee ache. 1Care will accuse me of over-servicing my patients. I have no discretion here, all is by SOPs” This is what the NHS UK system is like today.

Mutu lives in a remote rubber estate. One day he had chest pain and went to the nearby 1Care clinic. He has blood pressure problems since young and has had fits. A hospital assistant saw him. Because of a change of his medications to the cheapest not-the-original medications, his blood pressure went out of control and his seizures returned. He developed a fatal stroke and died This is already what is happening when essential original medications are replaced with the cheapest .The cheapest medications is not necessarily the best for the patient and certainly not the safest.


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