Mar 17, 2011

When paranoia and irrational hysteria replace common sense

The nuclear crisis in Japan is getting doubt. But something has gotten even worse...scare mongering and paranoia bordering on the ridiculous by mainstream media and some government commentators..

They make the folks circulating fake radiation threat SMSs in Manila and Chennai (India) look quite reasonable and rational.

Take some samples

  • Some are announcing complete scrapping of nuclear plans or shut down existing ones - like someone posted, that is like grounding all A380s because a 1960's DC9 plane crashed. Reactors are of many designs and of many vintage, just like airplanes.
  • US asks troops to stay 50 miles away when a UK expert clearly says 20-30 kms is good enough. Mind you these are supposedly soldiers not kindergarten kids..or sick grandmothers..
  • China stops nuclear plant construction - a country where mining disasters kill hundreds of coal miners on a routine basis...and where pollution is a big issue all over the country.
  • Tokyo airports are full of people wanting to leave!
  • Countries as far away as Canada are issuing clarifications that radiation will not cross the Pacific, travel 8000 kms and reach their shores! 
  • Media freely use terms like Chernobyl, nightmare, nuclear winter, hiroshima and whatever else that comes to their mind, without any logic or reason

Let us hope this absurd nonsense ends soon...

Mar 13, 2011

The Japan Quake,Tsumani and Nuclear power crisis

First and foremost, my prayers for the dead and sincere hope that those injured and suffering will recover soon and rebuild their lives..Japanese are brave, intelligent and disciplined and if anyone can recover from this crisis in the quickest possible time, it should be them. Thankfully they are blessed with adequate financial and governmental resources, unlike other disaster spots like Aceh, Haiti or other poor countries.

The biggest worry of course, is not the Tsunami or the quake, but the incident of explosion and cooling system failure at the two nuclear reactors. The worry is not just for the people living there but for the future of the nuclear power industry.

All sorts of peaceniks, tree huggers, leftist groups (who incidentally allowed their fellow ideological travelers in the ex-Soviet states happily trample and destroy the environment, adopt unsafe practices and lie about it leading to Chernobyl and many other environmental disasters)  and other well meaning but paranoid individuals and groups will now start a hysterical campaign to dismantle reactors, stop new constructions and give up on nuclear power altogether, offering this incident as 'proof' that nuclear power is unsafe. We are hearing ridiculous comparisons with Chernobyl already.

Let us keep things in perspective and hope sense prevails.

  • This quake is of 9.0 magnitude, such quakes don't happen everywhere and even where they do, happen once in a century or so.
  • Thanks to modern technology, despite such a one-in-a-century quake the the reactor itself did not explode or crack, and has (as of this writing) not released any radiation that is deemed damaging in a serious way. 
  • This is so, even though one or possibly two reactors has suffered a meltdown which is supposedly a huge disaster. 
  • There has been radiation over legal limits but such limits are stringent, particularly in advanced countries. That too has come down almost immediately.

In other words, even though there is a significant damage, it is not doomsday.

Let us hope and pray that the worst is over and the situation is brought under control...there is already good news on that front as we write. (8.45pm Japan time on Sunday)

Let us also not try to minimise or trivialise this incident because lessons have to be learnt, applied elsewhere and design, construction or procedural changes doubt responsible experts are working on this already. The political leadership should facilitate that by releasing information promptly and truthfully and not sweep things under carpet. Given the past track record, there are some legitimate concerns on that front.


Let us stop to think for a moment what will happen if we throw the baby out with the bath water and nuke nuclear power in a knee jerk reaction of paranoia.

  • Oil price will surge as one source of competition is wiped out. That would cause significant damage to environment and economies, more than any nuclear accident can do.
  • Coal will continue to be used and its usage will expand, with even more disastrous consequences for the environment. Every other month coal mine disaster kill hundreds of miners in China and elsewhere, sometimes even in advanced countries with higher safety standards..
  • Countries like Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern states that are accused of and known to be funding terrorism with oil money and countries like Pakistan and its evil army that take that money, train their citizens to be religious fanatics and terrorists and provide foot soldiers for jihad and terrorism globally will continue to do so with impunity, on a much larger scale, knowing the world is at their mercy. 
  • Many hundreds, if not thousands more innocent lives will be lost in civilised societies worldwide if there were a spurt in terrorist incidents funded by oil rich countries.

Is that in any way better?

The best way of course, is to cut consumption at source - particularly in developed societies and in developed parts of poor countries such as Mumbai or Delhi in India. It is the rich that consume the most and waste even more. For instance, one environment group in Hongkong has brought out a sobering statistic - in the last 10 years, population increased in HK only 6% but energy consumption went up by 80%. Remember it was not s if 10 years ago Hongkong was living in caves or in ill-lit homes - it was already a advanced society - which means all of that 80% increase can safely be considered wastage.

Staggered electricity rates are probably one solution - for any consumption above average for a family, which can be calculated liberally, the rates should be 5 or even 10 times higher.

Less consumption would mean less demand and less need for polluting or environmentally disastrous power generation, be it coal, hydro or nuclear.

Mar 9, 2011

How not to take on the IPAD

With the benefit of hindsight, we can easily see how Microsoft won not just the OS war but also the Office applications war - mostly thanks to its competitors shooting themselves in their own foot. Wordperfect shot itself to death refusing to deal with Windows, hoping DOS would last forever. Lotus did not do much better.

Now the same history looks like being repeated in the tablet wars...

When faced with a formidable rival with cool design, compelling content, high market as well as mindshare and believe it or not reasonable pricing, what should other tablet vendors do?

Obviously do something equally good or better in each and every department - hardware, software, marketing and above all PRICING.

Now it looks like both Motorola and Samsung are operating under the assumption that users are so fed up with IPAD they would pay any price to get a rival tablet that does not offer much as much content. Unlike Netbooks, tablets are for consuming content, not creating word documents or spreadsheets.

Motorola's ridiculous US$800+ pricing for XOOM, justified simply because it has better hardware (most of that superiority is washed out with IPAD2 anyway) is a good example. Samsung Galaxy tab too costs S$900+ in Singapore, a price that would get you an IPAD with far better features! Even the Series 9 of Samsung laptop, which should compete with MacBook Air is ridiculously expensive.

Why are they doing this? To handover the tablet market to IPAD on a silver plate? To commit hara-kiri?

Hope HP would do better (and drop their WebOS for Android)

Default settings for taxi drivers

You know what I am talking about - software or even gadgets usually come with 'default settings' that should take care of most normal cases. Similarly if one were to create a default personality setting for a taxi driver, it should be that they are talkative, highly informed and opinionated. Singapore is no exception. And until now, I would have said that another default setting can be added to that list - they are anti-establishment.

Over the years I have learnt many useful life lessons and valuable tips from taxi drivers (BTW, they are addressed 'uncle' by most people, even those that are older than the driver). Pearls of wisdom that no google can uncover such as names of condos that are a favorite of Indonesian tycoons' concubines can come only from a taxi drivers' monologue. I once let a taxi driver give me a lengthy trip advise on the 'hot spots' of Batam that a single man can visit, not wanting to disappoint him by saying I am only going for the beaches. I also learnt about a seafood joint that earlier had no sign board and now has a signboard that says 'No Signboard Seafood restaurant'. May be the Japanese chain store MUJI (no brand) got their inspiration from this place..

And as a rule, they have all been anti-establishment. They just have to pass a ERP gantry - enough to start them off on a lecture on cost of living, having to pay and pay and so on...incidentally they don't pay for the ERP charges, the passenger does.

Sometimes I take taxis just to listen to the driver and pass time.

But yesterday I rode with a taxi driver who is very much pro-establishment. Again the 'trigger' was a innocent remark by myself about how development is changing the CBD making me confused about location of taxi pickup points. He said people complain about changes and high cost of living but they should think about what they were 30 years ago and how better off they are today. Change in inevitable...we just have to look at it together and not piecemeal was his point. They come as a package, the good and bad. When I talked about medical costs he had an anecdote too - about how a rich guy earning $12,000 a month refused to pay for his mother's hospital bills instead forcing his sister, who only earns $4,000 to pay for it.  Why should the state bear costs in such cases? He reeled off statistics about how Japan is worse off than Singapore because of low population growth and what will happen to them in 2050 (by which time neither myself nor him are likely to be alive). Once again, I simply listened, at times offering some debate points as sitting ducks to draw him into interesting rebuttals. I usually take the contrarian stand as it makes the conversation, if you can call it that, more fun.

So I realised, they do come in all shapes and sizes...

Mar 1, 2011

Mubarak, Gaddafi and western bankers

There is an interesting piece of exchange in the Bond movie "World is not enough" which most people miss out, focussed on the girls and excitement and violence...

'Swiss banker':  I am just trying to return the money to its rightful owner
Bond: And we know how hard that is for a Swiss banker

Let us consider these snippets:
  • Financial Times reports that UK has frozen about $1.5 billion of Gaddafi funds with more to come and says some estimates suggest it could be 20 billion pounds!
  • And the Swiss freeze Mubarak's assets - several dozens of millions of francs to quote WSJ.
And we all know of Benazir Bhutto/Zardari and other corrupt South Asian politicians holding vast sums in western banks..

Why do these countries allow such investments and deposits in in the first place? After all if it is some unknown Patel or Shah or Mohammad they can pretend not to know (that is not true, it is just 'look the other way' but then that is a story for another day)about possible tax evasion and immoral earnings, but it should be plain as daylight in high profile cases?

And why do they bend over backwards to handover lists of clients to Uncle Sam, violating every principle of secrecy and confidentiality they swear to, when it is not even claimed with evidence, let alone proved, that all the folks in the list are tax evaders,  but hem and haw and quote legal and moral principles (as if they have any) when a poor or weak country asks for well known criminals' and politicians' (I am repeating myself here) records?

The rightful owners of these funds are the people of the countries that have been looted and plundered.

It should be returned to them.

As Bond quips, why is it so hard for a Swiss (or UK) banker to do this?