Saturday, March 31, 2007

Find what's not right

Can anyone find what's not "right" in the picture below? (not to be taken seriously)

The image is from Yahoo!News Photo, one of the most emailed: "A man holds a little dog during Saint Lazaro's celebration in Masaya, some 25 kms (15 miles ) south of Managua, Sunday, March 25, 2007. Every year hundreds of parishioners take their dogs, most dressed up in costumes, to ask Saint Lazaro for their health." (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

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On dirty toilets and being hygienic

Deputy Tourism Minister Datuk Donald Lim said dirty toilets are the most common complaint foreign tourists have about Malaysia - I read in the Sun newspaper. It's not a surprise. Even he didn't deny that the condition of many public toilets leaves much room for improvements.

Also quoted in New Straits Times, Malaysian Tourist Guides Council president Jimmy Leong Wie Kong said: "Tourists are quite shocked when they visit our toilets. The toilets are dirty, wet, smelly and are often without toilet paper or soap."

It's enlightening to see them agree that this is a problem. Some actions have been taken, or planned, I guess, like introducing college courses in lavatory management. College course? Seriously, it's part of what Malaysia is doing to flush away its insanitary reputation. Or the "high-tech, self-cleaning toilets" that cost RM 400k each, as Screenshots blogged. (If I understood correctly, these sophisticated toilets will auto-flush. Kind of high-tech in early 90's to me. But still, thumbs up for providing this kind of toilets in public areas.)

What's sad is the main motive to solve this seems to be the tourism or image from outside, and not to be truly clean and hygienic - which is more the root cause.

“Try to imagine dirty, disgusting toilets that make you nauseous — these will
surely give us a negative image,” Najib Razak, the Deputy Prime Minister,
said at a speech last year at the National Toilet Expo and Forum.

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Unspun has brought up the issue of dirty habit a few months back. This is perhaps true for most of the cultures in Asia. But there should be a shift in the habit - the one that is aware of personal hygiene.

Being hygienic, by the way, is not too difficult. We can all start with a discipline in washing our hands. And please dry them appropriately before getting off the toilet. I always wonder what it could be on the door handle when it's wet.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Indonesia post-oil

In one of his posts, Indonesia an oil-rich country?, Philips, interestingly started the post with his opinion on Playboy Indonesia magazine, cited an interview from Warta Ekonomi about Indonesia's oil reserve - that it will last only for the next 20-25 years.

Even now Indonesia is already a net importer of oil. How will it be 25 years from now? Importing 100% oil requirements? How will it pay?

Is the government aware of this?

But there's a potential solution. Water. More specifically, from the rain.

Indonesia is among the countries that will get more rainfall due to global warming; while other regions will have their rivers, lakes and aquifers depleted. As water availability is very likely to increase, it could be the new oil for Indonesia. Perhaps 25 years from now we can trade water for oil.

Of course, selling water from rainfalls is not straightforward. For the time being, some people have tried this in smaller scale. But if there is a good business case, or a case for survival, it's worthwhile for the government to explore and develop.

So it seems that water could be the 'gold' of the future - especially with rich countries also face the problems of water stress. Even now some people are selling water with premium, like what Jakartass found (scroll down to March 4).

Anyhow, it's still 25 years from now. The government perhaps should think about how to manage the potential flood from the increasing rainfall.

We don't want to end up with no oil and flood, do we?

What's sad is that one major cause of global warming is us burning the fossil fuel - coal, gas, and oil.

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Monday, March 26, 2007


I recently finished reading John Grisham's Bleachers. One of Grisham's books that do not feature court room in the story. It is around the death of a football coach and all the experiences of his former players. What they learned. What they loved, and hated. What they wanted to, but couldn't, forget.

Eddie Rake, the coach, was a tough one. A very tough one. He swears, pushes his players to the limit, and makes them throw up during practices.

It reminds me of Pak Bobby who passed away a few years back. He was my high school sport (physical education) teacher.

Like Eddie Rake, Pak Bobby was tough and made us throw up during physical exercise. Despite that, he was like a father figure to some of us. But I believe there were students who hated him as well.

I was out of the country when he passed away. And I just couldn't make the time to visit his widow and children every time I was back. I heard they moved out of Jakarta.

It's kinda a guilty feeling that I have. One promise to myself I just couldn't keep.

Probably I managed to spend some time thinking about life.


Thanks to Jennie for the wish. And to friends whose SMS I didn't reply until late in the evening. Like my buddy Sheque said, it's the symptom of getting old -- late SMS replies.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Expensive communication

I find it amazing that it is so expensive to make a call to Indonesia from Malaysia. It's even more expensive than a call to the U.S. -- which takes about 10 more times to travel to (20-hour vs. 2-hour flying). It's MYR 1.80 (~USD 0.50) for a minute to Indonesia, while it costs only half of that to call the U.S. (Telekom Malaysia's (TM) rate)

Of course, there are other countries with more expensive calling rate. Like India at MYR 3.50 a minute. Or Cuba at MYR 5.00 a minute.

The calling rate from the U.S. is no different (except it's cheaper). A call to Indonesia from the U.S. costs USD 0.35 (AT&T) or USD 0.12 (Vonage). A minute to Malaysia is USD 0.22 (AT&T) or USD 0.06 (Vonage). India is USD 0.34 and 0.17 with AT&T and Vonage respectively.

Why is it so expensive to call Indonesia - more expensive than to call Malaysia?

One explanation is monopoly (or duopoly or triopoly, for that matter). But if this is the case, I don't think Malaysia is much different. In fact, TM is probably the only international call carrier in Malaysia.

Or higher initial investment required. The main telecommunication infrastructure difference between the two countries is Indonesia requires more across-islands connection, while Malaysia is pretty much two big areas (West, or peninsular, Malaysia, and East Malaysia). This will also require higher maintenance costs.

Another explanation is high operations costs due to older networks. Though this seems to be a good explanation, I don't have any intelligent information.

It could also be higher operations costs due to other reasons. Like poor efficiency. Or inflated costs. Or pungli. And so on (corruption too).

Or is it merely one of the government's cash cows?

Not to say that these things don't happen in Malaysia. It's just probably not as bad (so the rate can still be lower).

But, with Malaysian telecom companies entering Indonesia (Telekom Malaysia acquired Excelcomindo and Maxis took over PT Natrindo Telepon Seluler), will this change? It's not directly linked to international call rate or settlement rate, but there might be hope.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bango mania blog

Through Enda Nasution's blog, I found this community of kecap* Bango fans: bango mania. The blog is said to be presented by bloggers, from many countries, who love, enjoy or crazy about kecap Bango. It does not have any ties with the producer of kecap Bango.

As amazed as Enda was, I'm very happy to find this blog, particularly because it says it's presented by bloggers from many countries. My first thought was that it has informations and postings on where to find kecap Bango. But unfortunately it has only one post on the topic in Singapore.

I myself am a loyalist of kecap Bango. Most of the time, I can distinguish Bango from the other kecap (which my wife finds it a bit weird). I think it's the thickness and sweetness that set it apart from the other kecap.

I find it more difficult to find kecap Bango abroad, as compared to kecap ABC. Even here in Malaysia, as Coffeeliqueur also confirmed. It's kinda not nice to ask visiting friends and family to bring a couple of heavy bottles or refills of kecap Bango.

Back in the U.S. we were pretty much dependent on online merchants like, though some Chinese grocery stores might carry some.

After the brand acquisition by Unilever in 2001, it is said that the business size has grown by 2.2 times, while market share grew by 3% annually. Now it's the matter of distribution worldwide. Bango should benefit from Unilever's worldwide network, as ABC probably does after being acquired by Heinz. So the hope is there.

* Kecap is soy sauce. Bango, in particular, is sweet soy sauce, which has a thick, almost syrupy consistency and a pronounced sweet, treacle-like flavor due to generous addition of palm sugar. It is a unique variety; in a pinch, it may be replaced by molasses with a little vegetable stock stirred in. (Wikipedia)

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Don't miss sex more than a month

"My research shows that if you don't have sex for a month you probably won't have it for a year," said Kunio Kitamura, director of the Japan Family Planning Association, in conjunction to concerns over Japan's declining birthrate. (an identical article from Guardian titled "no sex please, we're Japanese".)

The Japanese work so hard, that they prefer sleep that have sex. 34.6% married couple had not had sex for more than a month. The wives, as a consequence, look for solutions: sex volunteers.

Even a 2005 poll by Durex finds that the Japanese have sex an average of just 45 times a year compared with a global average of 103 times. That's about once a week for the Japanese and twice a week on global average. (If we look at the data a bit closer though, the bottom 8 are Asian countries: Japan, Singapore, India, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan.)

I found it a bit strange as I thought Japanese to have a higher-than-average level of kinkiness. You know, with all the cartoons, the sex industry, games and stuff. Combining these with hard-working attitude is the comment below:

"The men love their companies; they live for work," Mr Kim said. "Men don't even think it is a problem if they don't have sex with their wives. They have pornography and the sex industry to take care of their needs, but their wives have nowhere to go. They just suffer in silence."

In the other part of the world, ironically, it is difficult to control birthrate. A couple in Pakistan sold their newborn baby to pay the hospital bill (for delivery). This couple already has six children. (

Back to what I had in mind when I started -- well, I will just leave Mr. Kitamura's comment as our food for thought...


A bit about the Durex poll results:
  • People in India are the oldest to lose their virginity (19.8) followed by the Vietnamese (19.6), Indonesians (19.1) and Malaysians (19).
  • Men have sex on average 104 times a year, while women do it 101 times a year.
  • The Turks have the highest number of sexual partners and the most extra-marital affairs. Indians have had the fewest sexual partners (3). Indonesians have 5.1, while Malaysians have 5.8.
  • The Turks, again, top the charts when it comes to having had an extra marital affair (58%). Indonesians and Malaysians are 16% and 14%
  • 35-44 year-olds have the most sex, and the most sex is being had in Greece.
  • The most popular "sexual enhancer" is pornography.

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Eligible MBA institutions in HSMP

Thanks to Joseph for leaving a link to the list of 50 MBA institutions eligible for U.K.'s HSMP (Highly Skilled Migrant Programme) last week. The schools are:

* Harvard Business School (USA)
* Columbia Business School (USA)
* University of Pennsylvania: Wharton (USA)
* University of Chicago (USA)
* Dartmouth College: Tuck (USA)
* Stanford University (USA)
* Insead (FR/Sing)
* University of Oxford: Said (UK)
* MIT: Sloan (USA)
* Ashridge (UK)
* Northwestern: Kellogg (USA)
* London Business School (UK)
* New York University: Stern (US)
* University of Strathclyde (UK)
* IESE Business School (SP)
* Yale School of Management (USA)
* Warwick Business School (UK)
* City University: Cass (UK)
* Rotterdam School of Management (Neth)
* UC Berkeley: Haas (USA)
* University of Cambridge: Judge (UK)
* Georgetown University: McDonough (USA)
* Instituto de Empresa (SP)
* Cornell University: Johnson (USA)
* University of Michigan (USA)
* Duke University: Fuqua (USA)
* University of Virginia: Darden (USA)
* Carnegie Mellon University (USA)
* SDA Bocconi (IT)
* Emory University: Goizueta (USA)
* UCLA: Anderson (USA)
* Manchester Business School (UK)
* Cranfield School of Management (UK)
* University of Toronto: Rotman (CAN)
* University College Dublin: Smurfit (IRE)
* University of Southern California: Marshall (USA)
* University of Rochester: Simon (USA)
* Vanderbilt University: Owen (USA)
* Rice University: Jones (USA)
* University of North Carolina: Kenan-Flagler (USA)
* Babson College: Olin (USA)
* Melbourne Business School (AUS)
* Ceibs (CHN)
* Australian Graduate School of Management (AUS)
* Universiteit Nyenrode (NTH)
* University of Western Ontario: Ivey (CAN)
* Boston University School of Management (USA)
* University of Maryland: Smith (USA)
* Bradford School of Management/Nimbas (UK/NTH/GER)

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March madness

Perhaps it was too soon for me to say I didn't get killed. Didn't get shot is probably more correct. The fact is, in the past two weeks I haven't had time to write anything other than over the weekends.

Since March Madness has just started, I just want to post the bracket. The way I see it, this is one way to legalize organized gambling at workplace in the U.S. During this time in the year, many people would bet on the games. At the end, the house always wins.

Question: why are gambling markets organized so differently from financial markets? The answer might be here. :)

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

On poor customer service

Since last Thursday, we've been trying to open a new account for the kids. All documents were complete. On Thursday, it was an hour waiting to be attended (and no, it didn't get to our turn after an hour). On Friday, it was another 45 minutes, with the banker (customer service representative?) disappeared most of the time, until they said they had a problem.

So I got an earful of complaints from my wife on Friday night. The only mistake, I think, was that she went to a wrong bank, Maybank.

Maybank is the biggest bank and financial group in Malaysia. It is also, however, famous for poor customer service. Unfortunately, I have to bank with Maybank. The company I work at, for the sake of simplicity, only transfers to Maybank. While on one hand it hurts, on the other hand it makes sense as Maybank has the largest network.

I did a search for complaints on Maybank on an online consumer community portal, There is quite a few. Some of them, unsurprisingly, I've experienced myself. Like unanswered phone calls. Consistently non-working ATM. Nice (well, sometimes rude) but incompetent employees.

And part of the problem is that they don't focus on customers. They're stuck with the rules. Rules that don't put customers as priority. Many complaints on ATM/card replacement, like this one from the community portal:

Once again... Maybank! Haiz... What the this banking company policy thinking. I had say this company is a d**n lauzy customer services. The story are... Last two week i was get ppl stolen my wallet. Inside all the document and bank card are lost. No choose and i have do the report at nearly polis station, after i went replace all the document and bank card. IC, lisen, OCBC, public bank, RHB, AM ATM card all can be replace after i show them my polis report paper and im tempory IC and internatioal passport. But only the d**n Maybank, i show all the document also my saving book but they say cant! but have orginal IC just will replace the ATM card for me. What? this kind of services also will happening? What the hell they thinking? and i waste about 2 hours and getting this kind answer.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Laptop battery goes bananas

My Dell laptop battery is going bananas. I'm not sure what's really happened, but in the past three or four weeks, the battery life has gone from nearly two hours to only 45 minutes, right after being fully charged.

The laptop is about 18 months old. Since about five months ago, I started using a docking station at work. It pretty much charges my laptop every time I station it there - there's no option to unplug the power while using the dock. Before that, I always tried to "empty" the battery before I put the plug in.

The previous laptop, a Vaio, was even worse. Within two years the battery had pretty much gone; couldn't use it without plugging in the power. In this case, I also always tried to empty the battery before charging it.

Somehow I think using up the battery before charging it will keep the battery lifetime long. Like what people say about cell phone's battery. But does it?

Here' what Battery University says about lithium-based batteries. I'm too ignorant to check what kind of batteries there are for laptops and cell phones, but I assume most, if not all, of them are lithium-based.

Battery University? Yes. "Battery University is an on-line resource that provides practical battery knowledge for engineers, educators, students and battery users alike. The papers address battery chemistries, best battery choices and ways to make your battery last longer."

The battery prefers a partial rather than a full discharge. Ah, totally the opposite of what I thought. It further says "A lithium-ion battery provides 300-500 discharge/charge cycles. The battery prefers a partial rather than a full discharge. Frequent full discharges should be avoided when possible. Instead, charge the battery more often or use a larger battery. There is no concern of memory when applying unscheduled charges".

A lithium-ion battery in use typically lasts between 2-3 years. So we should expect to replace either the device or the battery (which is also expensive) after a couple of years.

The speed by which lithium-ion ages is governed by temperature and state-of-charge, as shown in the table below. (got to click to see, it's too small!)

The voltage level to which the battery is charged is also important, but it seems to be out of users' control.

The university further provides simple guidelines to prolong the life of lithium-based batteries:
  • Avoid frequent full discharges because this puts additional strain on the battery. Several partial discharges with frequent recharges are better for lithium-ion than one deep one. Recharging a partially charged lithium-ion does not cause harm because there is no memory. (In this respect, lithium-ion differs from nickel-based batteries.) Short battery life in a laptop is mainly cause by heat rather than charge / discharge patterns.
  • Batteries with fuel gauge (laptops) should be calibrated by applying a deliberate full discharge once every 30 charges. Running the pack down in the equipment does this. If ignored, the fuel gauge will become increasingly less accurate and in some cases cut off the device prematurely.
  • Keep the lithium-ion battery cool. Avoid a hot car. For prolonged storage, keep the battery at a 40% charge level.
  • Consider removing the battery from a laptop when running on fixed power. (Some laptop manufacturers are concerned about dust and moisture accumulating inside the battery casing.)
  • Avoid purchasing spare lithium-ion batteries for later use. Observe manufacturing dates. Do not buy old stock, even if sold at clearance prices.
  • If you have a spare lithium-ion battery, use one to the fullest and keep the other cool by placing it in the refrigerator. Do not freeze the battery. For best results, store the battery at 40% state-of-charge.
Source: Battery University

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Kill the messenger!

No one wants to deliver bad news. Particularly to the management. The urban legend is, they will kill the messenger.

That was the mission last Monday - for my boss and me. I was pretty close to having some all nighters. I got sick; probably hoping there would be some empathies to a sick-looking messenger. I broke several promises to the kids. The whole week was just unproductive.

We didn't get killed. In fact, I would consider it a good day as we managed to catch the flight in Singapore despite getting off the presentation just 45 minutes before the departure time. The cab driver was comparable to Queen Latifah in Taxi. I was the last getting into the plane. My boss ran faster than I did. I guess it's time to hit the treadmill.


So I decided to take the Friday off to Penang with the whole family. Despite the long, four-hour drive, we had a good time. Good food, good fun, and good rest. My third time to Penang, and I'm still amazed that an island of 293 square-kilometers has a 65-storey building. As a comparison, Jakarta's area is 661 square-kilometers and Wisma BNI 46 is 48-stories.

I was probably the only United fan in the hotel bar. I'm pretty sure I was the only one jumping when O'Shea scored the goal, and also the only one left watching the post-game analysis. Whatever, it was a good game - for United.

Fire incident

Got a call from our neighbor on Sunday morning - bitching that we were still sleeping in Penang. One of the units on the ground floor of our condo building was on fire. Everyone was evacuated through the stairs, at 2 AM. Except my Iranian neighbor who decided to keep on sleeping (probably there were some others).

The fire was extinguished without any fire trucks entering the complex. Apparently, everyone found out last night, the building entrance is too small for the fire trucks.

Additional checklist the next time we move: is the building entrance big enough for fire trucks?

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