Monday, 10 February 2014

Vision 2030

Originally written in 2012 for an essay writing contest. I didn't submit it due to time constraints at the time.

It is said that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That no matter how hard we plan for the future, there will always be a stumbling block somewhere. The only thing we can do is prepare for said block. Vision 2020 is less than 10 years from now and since the day the plan was conceived, Malaysia has seen tremendous progress, with an infrastructure that is able to compete with the developed nations while retaining a unique Asian feel. No doubt about it, Malaysia is close to becoming a full blown developed country. Whether that will happen by 2020 remains to be seen. As said before even the best laid plans can go wrong. In the case of Vision 2020, there are many obstacles that have presented itself, some of our own making, others beyond our control.  But before going into the gritty details, it is important to know what is the idea of Vision 2020, what we have achieve so far, the problems that is preventing it from becoming and even what the word “developed” means.

The idea of Vision 2020 is simple enough. It was introduced in 1991 by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad along with the Sixth Malaysian Plan. According to the plan, Malaysia is to become an economically-developed, industrialized nation by the year 2020. In order to bring about this transition, Malaysia must be able to grow by 7% for 30 years so that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Malaysia will increase from the 1990 RM115billion to a 2020 RM920billion (in terms of 1990 currency). Also, being developed does not mean only being economically developed. According to Mahathir, Malaysia must also be “fully developed along all the dimensions: economically, politically, socially, spiritually, psychologically and culturally”. To do this, he outlines several challenges that the country must overcome:
  • Establishing a united Malaysian nation made up of one Bangsa Malaysia (Malaysian Race).
  • Creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society.
  • Fostering and developing a mature democratic society.
  • Establishing a fully moral and ethical society.
  • Establishing a matured liberal and tolerant society.
  • Establishing a scientific and progressive society.
  • Establishing a fully caring society.
  • Ensuring an economically just society, in which there is a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation.
  • Establishing a prosperous society with an economy that is fully competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.
With all this in mind, it is hoped that by 2020, Malaysia will become a fully developed nation in all sense of the word. 

Indeed, looking back at the 90’s, we can see that Malaysia had been developing at an amazing rate. Our infrastructure had developed to the point that we are able to compete with the big guns of the world stage. Mega projects gave birth to the pride of the nation. The Petronas Twin Towers, one of the tallest on Earth. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport, a modern 21st century airport. And many others that would take too much valuable page space to describe. No doubt about it, Malaysia was on the warpath to developed nation status.

However, as said on the first paragraph, the best laid plans often go awry. And looking back, we can see that though the economic challenge is being solved rather well, there were other problems that weren’t being addressed or worst, being ignored all together. Actually, we don’t have to look very far, some of the problems are so recent you could say it just happened yesterday.  To me, these problems can be separated to three categories; three categories I would like to address, which are our economy, our politics and our culture.

         The first, and most obvious of all, is that of economy. Also obvious is the giant mess that is the recent US mortgage crisis that sent shock waves all over the world. Malaysia, unfortunately, was not spared by the crisis and entered a period of recession as the manufacturing, one of Malaysia’s core investments, slumped.  It was severe enough that some revisions had to be made by the plan. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said that Malaysia has to grow by 8% annually in this decade if it is to achieve 2020. If not, 2020 may become 2030 instead. If this weren’t bad enough, there is also a factor of global competition; Malaysia is not the only player that wants to be a developing nation. There is the rest of South East Asia that the country must compete with. Then there are the emerging superpowers to the north and west, China and India, with their ridiculously large population (1 billion each and counting) and equally ridiculously high GDP growth rate (6% and 9% respectively, compared to Malaysia’s 4.6%). In short, Malaysia must remain competitive, and quick, if it is to develop as planned. The nation must offer foreign investor, the lifeblood of a developing nation, a reason to invest in this country. Speaking of foreign investors, they are not only attracted to the economy of the country but also its politics, which segways us to our next category: politics.

         Malaysian politics is funny. There is no other word for it. Our political situation has been compared to that of a soap opera. We have been ruled by the same political coalition since independence and though this is great for financial and political stability, there will over time have cracks in the system, and fifty years is a long time for cracks to develop. One of the challenges of Vision 2020 is that Malaysia must have a “mature democratic society”. Malaysia must have first world politics to go along with the first world economy. Unfortunately, in practice it doesn’t really work that way. Our country is still hampered with archaic laws that limit the freedoms of the population. The infamous Internal Security Act, which allows the government to imprison people without trial. The Sedition Act, which prohibits ‘seditious’ statements, usually used to censor speech. And my personal favourite, The Universities and University Colleges Act, which restricts a student’s political freedom. Look at the developed countries. Most of the population would go berserk if any of these laws were enacted in their countries. Malaysia, if it is to become developed as outline in the challenges, must get rid of these laws or at least review and amend them.

         Also in need of reviewing is our political system. Right now, one need only open the newspaper or a web browser to read a report on corruption within the government and civil service. The embezzlement and misuse of public funds, police taking in ‘duit kopi’ (bribe money), questionable ‘lawat sambil belajar’ (visiting foreign countries while learning) and public projects. The list goes on and on. And if you’re a crackpot conspiracy theorist, you can probably throw in assassinations in there as well. These things are a cancer to our society and hamper the development of the country. Ignore them at your own peril as we all know what happens when you ignore cancer.

         And last but certainly not least is the culture. The thing that affects our day to day lives and the one that is the hardest to change. The one factor about ourselves if change will affect the previous two dramatically. And one cannot talk about our culture without mentioning the ‘r’-word. That’s right, race. Malaysia is a unique country. Our country is a melting pot of different races and cultures all working together for the greater good. Malaysia, Truly Asia. Where else but here can you get good beef rendang, Chinese fried rice and tandoori chicken all within walking distance? It is our unique racial diversity that has made this country great. Ironically enough it can also be considered our greatest roadblock towards progress. Remember that one of the challenges calls for a united Malaysian race, a Bangsa Malaysia. That part is being addressed by the government through the 1Malaysia campaign, emphasizing unity among the races. This however, will ultimately be futile as they are only trying to address the symptoms instead of the cause. What is that cause you may ask? Several, but they can be boiled down to economic inequality and misunderstanding and fear created by racial extremist. 

First, let’s look at economic inequality. More importantly, let’s look at how it is being addressed. We all have seen or read the news on how it is being addressed by giving special privileges to the Malays. One such example is the affirmative action plan called New Economic Policy implemented in 1971 to reduce the socioeconomic gap between the mostly urban, economically well-off Chinese and the Malays, who in those days were still mainly work in the agriculture. I won’t go into whether or not these policies helped closed the gap or the other controversial issues that litter that road but I do want to point out that a policy such as this may cause some resentment among the races, whether it is for it or against it.

Then, there is the lunatic fringe that is the racial extremist. These people who so desperately cling to the idea of racial superiority that anytime they open their mouths a wave of ignorance and arrogance spews out. These people that prevents us ordinary folk from just getting on with our lives and having the proverbial beer with our friends who just happens to be of a different race (no, I don’t drink). These people that ultimately prevents us from having the hoped for Bangsa Malaysia. Unfortunately, little can be done about the. As stated before, Malaysia must have a first world, developed society and this includes the freedom of speech, no matter how repugnant that speech is. The only thing we can do is educate and foster understanding or, to use internet lingo (I am a computer science student after all), stop feeding the trolls, meaning that stop giving them attention they so crave. Race is an issue to be sure but it is also our greatest strength. One need only look to the great melting pot that is America, where even a black man, a minority, can become president. Who knows? Maybe one day we might have a minority Prime Minister.

There is another topic which I would like to touch upon, and that is the so often heard question “Why can’t Malaysia be more like (insert successful Asian country here)?” For one thing, it is unfair to compare Malaysia to that of other countries. Each country is different. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to, for example, Singapore as they are a small country and can thus be managed easily. We also shouldn’t compare with South Korea or Japan as they are both heavily supported by the American. And God knows we shouldn’t compare ourselves with China and India! All those countries have different strengths compared to us. They also have different weaknesses that we should pray will never happen to us.

Steve Jobs once said that you “can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards”. And looking backwards, I can see that Malaysia, despite her flaw, has developed into an amazing country, with an infrastructure, people and culture that is to be envied. It is truly amazing what 20 years has brought to this country. We can’t see into the future but many hope that we will eventually make. Me? I’m a cynic but (God forbids) even cynics can hope. Maybe, if we all face this challenge together as a country, 2020 won’t be 2030.

Computer Shopping With A Tech-Clueless Grandpa

Originally written in 2009 for a class where we tried to introduce basic computer concepts. Had some help writing this one.

  • IT
  • Grandpa
  • Child
  • G. Child 1
  • G. Child 2 

IT: Hello there, sir! How may I help you on this fine day!

Grandpa: (grabs chest) Darn it! You nearly gave me a heart attack!

IT: I’m sorry, sir. I just saw you wandering around the shop and thought you might need some help.

Grandpa: I needed some kelp? No, I don’t need some kelp but I do need some help. See, my 
dishwasher is broken beyond repair and I need to buy a new one to replace it.

IT: I’m sorry sir but this is a shop that sells computers.

Grandpa: Compactors? I don’t need a trash compactor, I need a dishwasher!

IT: (stresses every syllable) Com…Pu…Ter.

Grandpa: Now what in the world is that?

IT: It is a useful machine that can help you in your everyday life.

Grandpa: Does it feed cats? Does it talk? It’s been pretty quite since my boy left to Britain with his children.

IT: (looks confuse) No, I don’t think it feeds cats but I may be able to help you with that last one.

Grandpa: What’s that? Speak up boy, I can’t hear you.

IT: (speaks louder) I may be able to help you stay in touch with your son!

Grandpa: Quiet down! I’m not deaf!

IT: Sorry. But still, I can help you communicate with your son. How do you currently keep in touch?

Grandpa: I usually get a letter from him every month. Sometimes I even get a photograph of his children.

IT: What if I tell you that you can talk to him almost every day from the comfort of your own home?

Grandpa: Well, I’d be gayer than the richest man alive!

IT: (looks confuse and uncomfortable) Umm… O.K. Do you want to see our computers?

Grandpa:  Alright!

IT: (shows Grandpa computer) Behold, the wonder of the 20th century!

Grandpa: Where? All I see is a flat-screen TV. And what’s that doohickey that I see it’s connected to?

IT: This “flat-screen” TV as you so called it is a computer monitor. Its function is to display the information inside the computer.

Grandpa: (points at PC case) And what is this? A metal box? And what does this button do? (Presses DVD-ROM Drive button) Hey, a cup holder! Brilliant!

IT: No, that is a DVD-ROM Drive. The DVD-ROM Drive is used to read DVD-ROM Disc. A DVD-ROM Disc is a….

Grandpa: I know what a DVD is! I’m not completely out of touch!

IT: I’m sorry, sir.

Grandpa: Now, what is this thing? (grabs mouse)

IT: That is a mouse.

Grandpa: (Drops mouse). Agh! A mouse! (attempts to step on it)

IT: No, sir, a computer mouse. It is used for navigating your computer screen.

Grandpa: Why didn’t you say so! Now what does this thing do? (points at keyboard)

IT: That is a keyboard. The keyboard is used to type in information into the computer.

Grandpa: Alright. So, how do I actually talk to my son?

IT: Firstly, you will need an email account.

Grandpa: Hang on, I think in of my letters, my son said something about an ‘email account’ he set up for me, and that I should buy a connector.
IT: That makes my job a lot easier. What is the address?

Grandpa: (Gives a letter to IT. IT read and uses computer)

IT: By the way, he wrote computer. And…finish. You are now able to talk or write to your son.

Grandpa: Excellent. By the way, what is ‘email’? He never really explained it.

IT: Email, sands for ‘electronic mail’. You use the computer to send them. It is different from traditional mail as email arrives to the recipient immediately.

Grandpa: Amazing! Now then, if you can contact my son, you have yourself a sale…and if you help me learn to use it, of course.

IT: Alright! Employee of the month, here I come. Now, let’s see. (looks at screen). It looks like your son is online. Would you like to speak to him?

Grandpa: Would I! How do I do that?

IT: (Points at a webcam). Look into this webcam. The function of a webcam is to see the faces of those who you are talking to, among other things. Alright, let’s see…ah, he has accepted. (screen shows Child).

Grandpa: Hello, there!

Child: Dad? Wow, so you finally bought a computer like I asked you to and learn how to use the internet.

Grandpa: Internet?

Child: Never mind. At least you learn how to use a computer.

Grandpa: Well, I had help.

Child: Would you like to meet the grand kids? They are right here. Come down you guys!

Grandchild 1: Hello, grandpa. How are you?

Grandchild2: We miss you. When are you coming to visit us?
Grandpa: Kids these days, you should be visiting me!

Grandchild1, 2: (together) Sorry, grandpa.

Grandchild1: Say, grandpa, how do you like the internet so far? Read any good blogs lately? Did you download some music yet? Hey, are you on MyFace yet?

Grandpa: (looks very confused and nauseous)

Child: Now, kids, Grandpa is just learning to use the computer. Let’s give him time before we asked the really hard questions.

Grandchild1, 2: (together) Ok.

Child: Well, it looks like you’re still in the shop. Why don’t you buy the computer and we’ll talk longer.

Grandpa: Alright then! Until next time!

Grandchild1, 2: (together) Bye!

Grandpa: (looks at IT) Well, I never know people could do such things! You have yourself a sale my boy!

IT: Thank you, sir! Now, if you just come with me for your credit card.

Grandpa: Of course! Before that, I would like to ask. What’s this thing about getting free music from the ‘interweb’ I’ve heard so much. Can you show me?

IT: (Looks at audience, confused)

How Things Can Go Wrong During A Holiday

Originally written in 2009

Holidays’. Ninety nine point nine percent of the time it can be a great way to relax, relieve stress and maybe spend quality time with the family. However, there are times that the holidays can be more stressful than working or studying. You plan your perfect holiday and somewhere along the way, everything falls apart, turning your holiday into a memorable one; and not in a good way.

One thing that can ruin your holiday is traveling to your destination, especially if it is long distance traveling. If you are traveling by car, the long trip will be incredibly boring, especially so if you don’t have a book or something to entertain you. Even then, you will likely have a headache trying to read. Also, when you arrive to your destination, you will be too tired to anything. It is even worse if you are traveling by plane as you will have to deal with jet lag and the headaches and drowsiness that come along with it. 

With all the traveling you went through, the first thing you would want to do is rest in your hotel room. However, before you reach that sanctuary, you will have to go through the customer service of that hotel. Oftentimes, the hotel receptionist will have to process your information, find an available room and some other excuse. By the time they are done, you are even more tired, sometimes too tired to even sleep. Then there is the question of your rooms’ cleanliness. If you stay at a nice hotel, your room would likely be clean. However, if you are traveling on the road and staying at one of the roadside motels, your room will likely be damp, dark and smell funny, with the bed sheets making you itchy and the bathroom plumbing not working. There is also the hotel breakfast which, in this writer’s opinion, tends to be the same no matter which hotel you stay at; the same bread and butter that seems past its expiration date and the orange juice that seems to be diluted with water.

Then, there is the tourist destination, the thing that can make or break your holiday, regardless of the journey. If the destination is not what was expected or is a boring place, your whole holiday will be ruined. Another thing that can affect the destination is the weather. If you go to sunny California expecting plenty of sunshine but instead get plenty of rain, you will be severely disappointed.

Finally, there are the other tourists. They can sometimes be annoying and do annoying things such as litter, take pictures with very bright flashes, or talking loudly. They are especially annoying if they bring along small children as they tend to cry or overall be a nuisance. Another nuisance is that the locals tend to stare at you, especially if you are from another country. This tends to be uncomfortable and can sometimes ruin your time at that destination.

With all these reasons, you might think that it is easier to stay at home and watch T.V. all day. However, misfortune should not discourage you from taking a holiday and a little boredom, annoyance and discomforting looks might make you appreciate the good holidays you might have in the future.

Is Microsoft’s Kinect Dead?

Originally written August 2011

If you’re a gamer that prides him/herself on being hip to the latest gaming news, or an Xbot like me, you have probably heard of Microsoft’s latest addition to its arsenal in the console wars, the Kinect. If you don’t know what in the world that misspelled, broken English word is, I will indulge you noobs with a quick explanation, considering the fact that the device is primarily targeted and marketed towards you.

The Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 is, in the most basic sense, a very advanced webcam peripheral for the Xbox 360 video gaming console, enabling users to play ‘motion-enabled games’ for their console. For those who don’t know, motion-enabled games rely on motion to control the game. Its creation is an obvious response to the Nintendo Wii, which popularize the concept of motion gaming and, since its launch, have been making a boatload of money for Nintendo. It is not, however, a copy-and-paste job (I’m looking at you, Sony).  Microsoft decided that they needed to be fresh in this approach and decided to forgo the concept of controllers entirely (The Wii still uses a controller as its primary input device) and instead turns your entire body into the controller, using the Kinect to capture the motion.

Now, there are some who say that the whole concept of motion gaming is a gimmick, a quick cash grab for the industry. That the Kinect will probably end up in the trash heap of failed peripherals just like the EyeToy, the Sega CD, the PS2 modem, the PowerGlove, and really I could go on and on. It is true that after-market add-ons for video game consoles almost never do well. Usually because most consumers don’t know how they work or what they are. There’s also the lack of marketing of these products; they never get as much attention as the console itself, relegating the peripheral as an afterthought. Not to mention the fact that third party game developers seldom publish games for them as they have a small market of people who actually bought the darn thing, cutting in on the potential profits. Plus, there’s a learning curve on developing on the platform, money spent on training that could be spent elsewhere and you can see why they wouldn’t want to take that risk.

You can see now why some people are saying the Kinect is a failed product even before it has a chance to prove itself. The sheer amount of factors working together to topple it makes it seem that the naysayers are right. However, I believe that they are wrong, that the Kinect may just be able to fight it out in the market, as they fail to mention the one thing that might save it, the rise of the ‘casual gamers’. These are gamers that don’t have gaming as their primary hobby, these are the people that like to play Angry Birds instead of the new Starcraft and most importantly, these are people that are driving the sales of the Wii. It is this market the Kinect caters to and Microsoft, learning from the past, has aggressively marketed to this audience and entices them by encouraging developers to develop new games for the platform. They even dedicated their entire E3 keynote this year just to promote it. You know they are serious when they use their time at the biggest gamming expo to cater to casual games. Not only that, they have been actively encouraging the developer community to create new games for the platform, even going so far to add unnecessary Kinect support on big triple A titles like Mass Effect and Battlefield 3. All this is surely costing the Redmond behemoth a pretty penny.

Judging on the amount of support Microsoft is putting in and the rise of casual gaming, the Kinect may be that very rare peripheral that comes out once in a blue moon; ones that survive in the market. Or I could be wrong and the whole thing will be dead by next year. That’s the thing about predictions and assumption, they may be completely wrong. Still, I think the Kinect will make it, despites history’s hatred towards peripherals.  Just play it yourself and I feel that you will agree, that motion gaming is here to stay and the Kinect will lead use to that future. Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go play GTA IV and kill hookers with my physical controller.

Top 5 Weirdest Easter Eggs in Video Games

Originally written August 2011 for Tazzette Magazine

5. Doom II: Hell On Earth (Various Platforms)
In the final level of the game, using a certain cheat will enable the player to actually fight the severed head of John Romero, one of the lead programmers for the game. Another interesting fact, when you first meet the final boss, it will greet you with a phase that if said backwards means, “To win the game you must kill me John Romero”. Just make sure if you decide to fight him, he doesn’t make you his bitch.

4. Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

The GTA series always had weird easter egg but I find this one particularly weird. Go fly to the Statue of Happiness. Look carefully and you will see the face is that of Hillary Clinton holding a hot coffee cup. This is an obvious reference to the ‘Hot Coffee’ controversy that got the studio into trouble a while back. That’s not the weird part though. Land on the pedestal and you will see an entrance with a sign saying “No hidden content this way”. Go inside and there is a giant, beating heart. Shoot it, and it bleeds. Creepy.


3. Metal Gear Solid 3 (PS2)

Honestly, there’re so many weird easter eggs in this game I just can’t pick one. From the multiple bizarre ways of killing The End, to the vampire mini game, breaking the forth wall, dancing with EVA, there’re just too many so I’m just putting the whole game up on the list.

2. Half Life 2 (PC, Xbox, Xbox 360, PS3)

 When meeting a headcrab zombie, listen to the moans when you set it on fire. If you play it backwards, it actually says, “Help, God, help! Help me!” Which means the victim is still alive and aware! So think about that next time you dismember it with the gravity gun. You monster.

1. Microsoft Excel 95

Why is an office product in the top of a list of weird video game easter eggs? Because there’s actually a mini game inside the program! By following a list of instructions, you will activate a first person game in which you can explore a weird, creepy hall called “The Hall Of Tortured Souls”. That’s not a joke, that’s what the program calls itself! It’s not much of a game since you can only explore a small area but it definitely fits the definition of weird. And the tortured souls the title speaks of? It probably refers to the pictures of developers of Excel 95 included in a room within the game. So if Microsoft ever offers you a job, run. Just run.