Archive for October, 2004

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Which is worse?

Yesterday night, while tucking my little girl in bed, my husband and I got into a debate about the governance and the unethical undercurrents of how some technology companies seem to be doing business.

It was a simplistic argument, and a general one at best, but it was interesting.

Now which is worse – Selling seemingly stable software that is next to impossible to use without paying high prices for consultancy or services, or providing software with similar functions that you can train anyone to use despite its complicated functions, but the software itself is faulty that you need to patch all the time, or opt for an upgrade the next time one comes around.

You can see where I’m going with this.

I’ve always felt that SOME IT companies seem to be either deliberately making complex software to capitalise on their deployment/services/consultancy business, or not providing enough R&D to simplify the use of such software towards the same effect. Their priorities seem to be

1. make/buy/sell good software

2. don’t bother if it’s easy to use, we have consultants and our partners have engineers for that

Versus the ‘policies’ of companies that work to create software that you can easily train users for:

1. make okay software, don’t bother if it’s perfect when we sell it because we can always patch it later

2. make sure it’s so easy to use, your grandma can learn to use it

What do you think?

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Useful stuff

Who says reading the papers (and seemingly unimportant emails) these days is useless?

Today’s NST (tabloid version) Page 2 held a report that employers should NOT pay for runaway maids. Damn straight! It seems that this levy is not imposed by government so the money is actually being pocketed by your agent, even if it’s not your fault!
Also, your agent has the obligation to supply you with up to three change of maids in three years if you are unhappy, and NO FINES or any sort of extra charges should be imposed.

I’d also like to commend on Ruth Liew’s Childwise column in The Star (today, page 24 under StarTwo). I’ve been reading this for a few weeks now and she offers some very useful tips for first-time parents.

I’ve always wondered how I am to instill good habits such as sharing into my daughter of two, particularly now that my second is on the way. Ruth’s article today called “Learning to be fair” really helped me understand some very important things, such as perhaps two is too early to teach sharing and that it’s better to give each of my child a set of their own things until they are ready. And that playing judge between your kids is actually not recommended, that kids should be left to resolve their own conflicts. Great stuff.

Thirdly, I received an email from my girl friend Hazel – did not verify this but give it a try: Tips on buying Gardenia bread! Here’s the email (verbatim):

When you go to buy bread in the grocery store, have you ever wondered which is the freshest, so you “squeeze” for freshness or softness. Did you know that bread is delivered fresh to the stores five days a week? Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Each day has a different color twist tie. They are:

Monday – Blue
Tuesday – Green
Thursday – Red
Friday – White
Saturday – Yellow

So if today is Thursday, you would want red twist tie not white which Is Fridays (almost a week old)! The colors go alphabetically by color Blue – Green – Red White -Yellow, Monday
thru Saturday. Very easy to remember. I thought this was interesting. I looked in the grocery store and the bread wrappers DO have different twist ties, and even the one with the plastic clips have different colors. Enjoy fresh bread when you buy bread with the right color on the day you are shopping!

Now that was something I didn’t know!

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Dreamcashing: Weaving a web of paranoia and greed

Last week, an old friend of mine asked me if I was interested in a ‘business opportunity’.

If I was given five sen for every time I’ve been propositioned with this phrase, I’d have two ringgit and 35 sen today after 14 years of having stumbled across such individuals from Network 21, Quixtar (never knew how to spell that properly) et al. These encounters have infused in me a defence mechanism triggered off by keywords such as those mentioned, along with ‘do you have a dream?’ and the less ostensible ‘are you financially secure?’.

When the economy was better (circa 1990), seduction attempts began with talk of dreams of travel and retiring early and what not. When 1997 came, the propositions turned to play on our fears, such as if we knew what our future held for us, when the next downturn would be, who is at the highest risk and the pros and cons of going into business (in the traditional sense), for yourself.

Back to last week. Because another friend of mine was interested to listen, I was asked to accompany her. From dinner, we were asked if we wanted to attend a seminar just across the road at Crystal Crown Plaza. No obligations, said my friend. Since the night was still young and I thought humouring him would be my last bid at a cordial friendship, I went.

The first thing that struck me was the number of young people this seminar had managed to attract. Throngs and throngs of after work executives, some housewife types and some who seemed as though they were just out of college, lined up to pay the token RM5 to go into one of the big function halls on the first floor.

Of course, I was a little miffed that I had to pay for this. The thought was that I could be one a drone who’d contribute to the riches of one or two individuals on top of the food chain and I had to PAY?

The hall was already filled with people when we went in that we had to ‘fight’ for a seat. Everyone was smiling, smiling at me in welcome, smiling at me as though they knew something I didn’t. It was unnerving although I smiled back, trying to send out the message that ‘I’m going to write about this!’ Noone got it.

And so the seminar started. A man called Bupinder Singh was the speaker for the night and everyone seemed very impressed by him. He was introduced as one of the ‘elders’ of this company called Questnet who has travelled the world preaching ‘the prophecy’. To his credit, he speaks very well. You’d have to, if you want to deliver a doomsday message such as his.

In a nutshell, what Questnet, through Mr Bupinder, basically presented throughout the night were a summary of points written in books by Alan Greenspan and Robert Kiyosaki which pointed to one seemingly inevitable result: that in year 2010, the great Depression would hit. Why? The man gave a few reasons:

1. Because baby boomers (people born after WWII) who have been buying mutual funds since then are all ripened by then, and would be all selling them by 2010 (all 50 million of them, as quoted – give or take a few mil) or even as early as 2008. This would cause a crash in the world market for mutual funds (this is what my simplistic mind digested by the end of the evening). In a nutshell, MF is not a good way to go. Bupinder brought up the fact that most Malaysians are now going towards MF using their EPF funds, which is very dangerous.

2. Because Mr Greenspan and other renowned world economists have predicted that recession happens every 12 years. After the world depression of the 20s, the ‘depression’ clock got reset (according to Mr Bupinder) to 1950 (although technically the Great Depression of 1929 actually ended in 1941 – before the start of WW2).

1962 was the Cuban Missile Crisis/start of the cold war. 1974, he said, was the Vietnam War (although the US, presumably the principle force behind world economic shifts referred to by Mr Bupinder, moved troops to Vietnam actually in 1965, NOT 1974). Check out a summary of the VW timeline here. However, the 74-75 recession DID occur but because of other factors first and foremost due to the oil price hike, culminating in the resignation of Nixon in US.

Add another 12 years and it’s the recession of 1986, according to Mr Bupinder. A simple check on the Net indicated that the recession in the US actually started in 1982 due to Reagan’s tax cut measures among other things. That’s in the US. In Southeast Asia, we felt the ripples a little bit later.

Boom, add another 12 and we are conveniently at 1998: the Asian economic crisis. The dotcom bust. The effects of that are still rippling through.

However, many believe this to have been the Great Depression Sequel of the 30s. After all, the cycle is supposed to be every 65 years or so. So what is this whole 2010 ruckus?

Because it’s 12 years from 1998.

Now I am no economist (so someone who knows a little more of these things, please put some facts straight for us) but after an hour of listening to Bupinder, I cannot help but wonder if this is all a web of paranoia woven to scare people into whatever Questnet has to offer. Fear is powerful. And in this room this evening, it is building.

After the powerful delivery of these facts (which I intended to check with an economist friend of mine as soon as I can get hold of him), Mr Bupinder proceeded to discuss HOW we and our families can all be saved. He compared business models such as franchising etc against network marketing, and of course, what Questnet had to offer. No obligations. If we are ready to go to the next phase, we can contact the ‘agent’ who brought us to listen to the ‘business plan’.

And so I did. I asked my friend what he had to offer that could possibly save me from this impending doom.

A pack of gold coins for RM2,000 and the promise of earning USD250k in two years or so if I ‘recruit’ more people into it – which is the usual way these things work.

The trip home was a fitful one, as I explained to my friend about priorities. After an hour of trying to convince me, I could not help but ask him two questions:

1. If you did not quit your job because of your problems with your boss, E, will you be doing this?; and
2. What value do people derive from these gold coins?

He did not answer my first question, and to the second, he said, “Honestly, I don’t see any value in it myself. It’s not the product; it’s the business.”

Are you telling me that what we are essentially doing is to weave a web of paranoia and greed by selling crap to our friends so that they can also sell more crap to others? At least Amway’s pricey washing detergents and Avon’s garrish cosmetics serve SOME purpose.

No, thank you.

Priorities. I have three priorities right now in life, as I mentioned to my good friend E. Firstly, is to raise two kids so that they will grow up not just to be GOOD people, but USEFUL people. It is a gigantic enough task. Secondly, I’d like to be more useful myself to other people. I am not volunteering enough time to the unfortunate. Today, I help fix their computers. Perhaps in the future I can help fix their lives.

Thirdly, I’d like to write a book. Any kind of book. That is the least of my priorities but my most fanciful one.

Today, I already hold more than one job (I have a salary and do a lot of freelancing). I am bringing in just enough to feed 1/2 my household (including parents and a maid) and I have a little to save for the future. Each of my family members have one health and one savings insurance policy each. Today, I am happy but I am cautious, and I accrue a LOT of value to being cautious. It builds character.

I don’t entertain delusions of grandeur such as striking the lottery (because I don’t even buy the required tickets) not because I have arse luck, but because I don’t have the money to throw. I don’t drive and my clothes are all over a year old. My most expensive possession is my desktop computer and it should be since I make money by using it (properly).

So the big question is: What is in it for me?

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Blogging and Writing: Different and yet the same

Recently, the topic of the similarities and differences of writing professionally and blogging came up again.

Traditionally, the media (should) be responsible for what they put out merely because they are voicing information, opinions, facts and research out to an

impressionable public. Journalists were used to inform. Today, they are also used to influence and sway – hence the importance of journalistic responsibility and

integrity, that of the media to its readers and the people who pay to inform and be informed.

Contrast this with blogs – weblogs (private or otherwise) penned by individuals and some syndicated to garner wider readership. Some write about their

day-to-day activities, such as work and their relationships. Some voice out opinions on current issues. Some even disseminate information to friends and

acquaintances from all over, who read their blogs. They are characterised as informal, and as such, are believed largely to be unreliable because they are from one

person, after all. And yet, their contents can result in the same results: to influence and sway its audience.

Contrast this yet again with diaries – the traditional personal logs of individuals in a secret place nobody ever sees and to even take a peek is a breach of privacy.

Millions in the world for centuries have kept diaries and accounts of their lives. Some more interesting ones have been published with permission and they have found

their way to influence and sway those who purchase and read them. Most of the time (I assume), these never reach the eyes of the unintended because in here, you

write things you don’t want people to know you think or do. As such, you can write anything you want, are responsible to nobody because this diary is for your eyes

only.

The question now is: How is journalistic responsibility defined today in light of such widely available publishing resources? The reach of your chosen media? The

subject of your piece (fiction, biographical etc)? Or simply the fact that you have put pen to paper (hence covering in effect all writers, including diarists).

Let’s talk about reach. If as a journo, your article is published in a printed Gen Y newspaper which sells only 1,000 copies a day, which works out roughly say

about 1, 200 readers per day, you are still tied by professional ethics to publish only the facts and only after much research.

If as a blogger, your article is published on a publicly available Internet blogtal and is further disseminated through syndication engines all over the world, chances

are you’d get, oh, about 30 readers at any given time. Depends on how interesting your blog is, of course. Take commercially syndicated blogs such as Jeff Ooi’s,

which are treated as factual commentaries because he has proven himself capable of writing sound political observations. As such, he has to be responsible for what

he says, whether or not he’s being paid to do so, because he gets hundreds, perhaps thousands of readers a day. He has earned this privilege. You can’t say ‘don’t

believe what Jeff says because he’s just a blogger’ because what he writes about is also based on sound observation of facts and trends. And you can trust that by

looking at his following.

One thing to note is that blogs do reflect the blogger’s mind and mindset. Some more literally than others. As such, if a would-be terrorist blogs about his intent to

blow up a building and we are given a day by day account of his destructive plans, do the authorities sit back and say, nah he’s just a blogger? If they do react, can

the blogger then say ‘hey, I was just kidding?’. If his writings inspire just three others to follow his fanatical beliefs and produce disastrous results, can he then claim

not to be responsible?

Will you accept that it’s his blog, therefore he can say whatever he wishes?

Tone this down a few notches and we cover most blogs in our blogosphere. People rant and rave, in effect sharing with friends, family and the chance anonymous

visitor, their joys and woes of what life has dished out for each of them. This is the wonder of blogging, that we are allowed trespass into thousands of once private

realms, perhaps some more honest than others. Some of these writings resonate with us and we agree. Some rub us the wrong way and we use Haloscan to

comment.

It is like placing a large, prominently placed two-way window into our bedrooms right where people pass on the street all the time, inviting looks into our private

domain. Some will like what they see, some won’t. If you have deliberately placed something offensive in your bedroom, such as perhaps a display of leather outfits

and S&M gear, you will of course outrage the decencies of some passers-by. But hell, it’s your bedroom – you put what you want in there. Then again, you also

placed that large window there. You can’t just imbibe in kinky S&M activity as you wish because people are looking. Authorities may be knocking on your door

soon asking you to put some shades on because you are outraging public decency – even in privacy of your own home. Remove the window and you can do what

you like, anytime you like.

Let’s now talk about how subject matter can also impact the responsibility of the author, and in this instance, how about someone who is actually putting that

window in say, a house that is empty. He or she then fills it with props, setting up a fictional bedroom which is to be the scene of a murder. One day, passersby

witness this heinous crime and the authorities come storming, only to discover that this is all a ruse.You have done nothing but put on a play. What is your crime? That

you deceived the 100 people were standing outside your window, oggling? The millions of people reached by news trucks which have arrived and telecasted your

‘crime’ to the world, from this joke you started?

What, you can’t put on a skit in your own house? No, not when you have that big window in your room, they say. Or at least inform passersby (by putting up a

sign that says FICTIONAL MURDER IN PROGRESS, perhaps) so that they don’t alert the police because what do you expect when people look in and suddenly

see someone trying to, say, drown another? Why? Because of that big shop window you have overlooking the street – that’s why. You can skit all you like without

trying to influence or shock anyone with these voyeuristic riggings.

With the Net and blogging, the interpretation of journalistic (or perhaps we should call it author-istic – if there’s such a word?) responsibility has to be redefined, at least in the minds of those who write anything that’s to be seen and read in public. The web is Free For All domain, and with the right tools, anyone can set up a professional (or at least professional-looking) platform through which one can misinform. Just look at parody sites like thefakenews.com (some have more ostensible names). You need to take what you write seriously, even though half your audience may not – simply because SOMEONE else is reading. Otherwise, why blog? Might as well return to our perfumated diaries with their ornate, quaint locks!

So what is accountability when it comes to writing professionally and blogging? Three factors govern it, as far as I can see:

1. Whether you are being paid to do it or not

2. Whether you have a large enough audience that makes having to be accountable for what you say important

3. If the subject matter you are commenting on is a constant: politics, current affairs et al and not your personal affairs and/or fictitious meanderings.

As I have mentioned to a fellow blogger, it is really where you want to go with your blog that determines your accountability. People like Jeff Ooi and Oon Teoh did not get where they are today by shooting their mouths off all the time, earning themselves their paid gigs and solid reputations as ombudsmen of Malaysian politics and technology. They managed their writing, their thoughts and so the payback is they HAVE to be accountable for what they write.

If you don’t really care where your blog ends up and it is just an outlet to vent, then of course, your limited audience of five or ten will understand and take it with a pinch of salt. They are but your friends and family, with the occasional passer by, after all.

As such, accountability and being responsible for what you write is governed by your ambitions for your blog. I

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