Congratulations Class of 2014 Republic Polytechnic


I am honoured to be invited to be the guest of honour and speaker at this year’s graduation at the Republic Polytechnic (http://www.rp.edu.sg/grad/home/Eventdetails.aspx?id=571).

Here’s my speech:

Mr Yeo Li Pheow, Principal and CEO of Republic Polytechnic,
Faculty, Facilitators and staff of Republic Polytechnic
Distinguished Guests
Friends and Family of Graduands
Graduating Class of 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning

Today, we witness the graduation of 330 students from courses in the Diploma in Information Technology and Diploma in Interactive and Digital Media.

Graduation or commencement speakers are usually requested to offer wisdom, insights and advise to new graduands such as yourself.

I find that somewhat unfair.

Unfair because the world you are going to experience will be as different from the world I experienced when I graduated almost three decades ago. That being said, there are some unchanging traits that transcend generations.

Now, let me start with a story.

I am sure you would have seen the video of how a dog somehow found itself on a busy highway. Unluckily for the dog, it gets knocked down.

     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlR3UVU_nHQ

Miraculously, another dog appears and somehow manages to get to the injured dog and ever so slowly nudges and drags the injured dog to the road side.

Eventually some humans arrive and provides help and we are told that the story ended happily in that the injured dog survived.

Animals exhibit traits that we humans label as compassion, exhibiting ethics and showing integrity.

I will pick on the latter two traits as the advice I would like to offer you today – ethics and integrity.

We understand ethics inately. We know when something is not done ethically.

Why should the graduating class of 2014 be concerned with ethics? In one word, “Life”. Life is chock full of twists and turns. And during some of these twists and turns, you will be faced with decision points where you may have to make ethical judgements.

The other trait is that of integrity. Integrity is a tough master. Integrity takes a long time to build. But once your integrity is lost, it is very hard to recover. Loosing your integrity can be likened to loosing your arm.

Yes, you can certainly get a super snazzy 3D printed prosthetic, but it is never the same.

Compromise your ethics or your integrity, you might end up never recovering from it.  That loss is a very high price to pay.

Both ethics and integrity should be used as guiding principles in all that you do; we do.

And here’s a tip: if you are ever in doubt, always, ALWAYS err on the side of ethics and integrity even if it disadvantages you. You cannot go wrong.

Let me tell you a second story.

When I was nine years old (it was in the 20th century, a long time ago nonetheless), I remember being at home watching TV. I was watching on our super duper black and white TV (no colour tv, no HD no cable, nothing), the footage of Neil Armstrong climbing ever so clumsily down the lunar lander and stepping on to the surface of the Moon.

I was mesmerized.

There it was, a human walking on the surface of the celestial body closest to our planet. Heck, if I looked carefully at the moon, I am sure I could have spotted him.

Wow.

I knew then what I wanted to do: I wanted to be an astronaut. I too wanted to go to space and to the moon.

I still do.

The closest I’ve been to the moon is only 12km from the surface of Earth which leaves me another 369,765km to go.

Living in Singapore meant that becoming an astronaut was going to be tricky. We did not, and for all I know we still do not, have a space program to send someone to the moon.

I figured that if I can’t be an astronaut, I should do the next best thing and be an aerospace engineer – after all it had the word space in it.

Bang! Stumbing block number two. Singapore, then, did not have any program around aerospace engineering.

Fine, the next closest option then was to do electrical engineering. That was a wonderful twist – for doing electrical engineering in the 1980s gave me an opportunity to work on what was then called the ARPAnet which we call the Internet, today.

That brings me to my third story.

One fine Spring afternoon in 1986 (way before all of you were born), I was exploring the ARPAnet from the cold comfort of the EE lab in Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.

At the Tektronix terminal I was seated in front of, I typed in:

    ftp ftp.funet.fi

The system responded with “Connected to ftp.funet.fi”.

Connected? I am now connected to a system in Finland while I am still in my lab in the US!

Awesome.

Big questions started racing through my mind:
 - Who is going to pay for this connection?
 - Am I doing something I should not be?

I quickly disconnected. I felt I made a huge mistake. Should I just act innocent (or for those of you who understand Singlish, “act blur”) and assume nothing happened? Or should I report it and face the music?

It was an ethical issue and my integrity was at stake.

I did what I felt was the right thing and sent a note to the system administrator stating what happened and offered to pay for the mistake.

The reply I got made me smile.

He said not to worry as my school was part of ARPAnet and so connecting to anywhere on the network was just fine and the US Department of Defense (the US equivalent of our Ministry of Defence) is funding the network. He thanked me for being upfront and disclosing what happened.

I was really glad I did the right thing when faced with the ethical and integrity dilemma.

Fast forward a few years into the 1990s and one of the constant themes for me was that I felt much happier when I was able to use my engineering expertise, skills and training to make this world a better place for as many people as possible and to do so ethically and with integrity.

I was fortunate to start two businesses and also to fail spectacularly in them.

Those were trying times and on many ocassions, my ethics was challenged and my integrity could have been compromised.

It was important to me that I kept both my ethics and integrity in tact through those difficult times.

Failure is unforgiving but a heck of a good teacher – provided you are willing to learn. Failure is cruel, but just as a samurai sword not forged in the hottest of forges is brittle and useless, without going through failure, you won’t know your strengths and weaknesses and how best to manage it. Success is sweeter if you failed before.

That brings me to those of you who would be going on to do your National Service. NS would be seen by some as a total waste of time, and by others as the time they went from boys to men. I am with the second sentiment. NS is guaranteed to throw up plenty of learning and trying opportunities and as long as you keep your ethics and integrity in tact, you will do just fine.

Let me quote from someone I am sure some of you would recognize:

     Empty your mind
     Be Formless, shapeless like water
     Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup
     You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle
     You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot
     Now water can flow or it can crash
     Be water, my friend.

“Be water, my friend” said Bruce Lee.

Just as you step out of this institution into life, be water.

As a final thought, as you leave your wonderful alma mater, the Republic Polytechnic, don’t leave with any unfinished business. Get closure with your friends, your acquaintences and your teachers. They were all part of your journey. As you part ways, hug those you can, say sorry to others, thank those you got help from and above all, be excellent to the institution that nurtured you for three years. Strive to be happy.

Thank you and congratulations, class of 2014.

 

UEFI and Fedora/RHEL – trivially working.


My older son just enrolled into my alma mater, Singapore Polytechnic, to do Electrical Engineering.  It is really nice to see that he has an interest in that field and, yes, make me smile as well.

So, as part of the preparations for the new program, the school does need the use of software as part of the curriculum. Fortunately, to get a computer was not an issue per se, but what bothered me was that the school “is only familiar with windows” and so that applications needed are also meant to run on windows.

One issue led to another and eventually, we decided to get a new laptop for his work in school. Sadly, the computer comes only with windows 8.1 installed and nothing else. The machine has ample disk space (1TB) and the system was set up with two partitions – one for the windows stuff (about 250G) and the 2nd partition as the “D: drive”. Have not seen that in years.

I wanted to make the machine dual bootable and went about planning to repartition the 2nd partition into two and have about 350G allocated to running Fedora.

Then I hit an issue.  The machine was installed with Windows using the UEFI. While the UEFI has some good traits, but unfortunately, it does throw off those who want to install it with another OS – ie to do dual-boot.

Fortunately, Fedora (and RHEL) can be installed into a UEFI enabled system. This was taken care of by work done by Matthew Garrett as part of the Fedora project. Matthew also received the FSF Award for the Advancement of Free Software earlier this year. It could be argued that perhaps UEFI is not something that should be supported, but then again, as long as systems continue to be shipped with it, the free software world has to find a way to continue to work.

The details around UEFI and Fedora (and RHEL) is all documented in Fedora Secure Boot pages.

Now on to describing how to install Fedora/RHEL into a UEFI-enabled system:

a) If you have not already done so, download the Fedora (and RHEL) ISOs from their respective pages. Fedora is available at https://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora and RHEL 7 Release Candidate is at ftp://ftp.redhat.com/pub/redhat/rhel/rc/7/.

b) With the ISOs downloaded, if you are running a Linux system, you can use the following command to create a bootable live USB drive with the ISO:

dd  if=Fedora-Live-Desktop-x86_64-20-1.iso of=/dev/sdb

assuming that /dev/sdb is where the USB drive is plugged into. The most interesting thing about the ISOs from Fedora and RHEL is that they are already set up to boot into a UEFI enabled system, i.e., no need to disable in BIOS the secure boot mode.

c) Boot up the target computer via the USB drive.

d) In the case of my son’s laptop, I had to repartition the “D: drive” and so after boot up from the USB device, I did the following:

i) (in Fedora live session): download and install gparted (sudo yum install gparted) within the live boot session.

ii) start gparted and resize the “D: drive” partition. In my case, it was broken into 2 partitions with about 300G for the new “D: drive” and the rest for Fedora.

e) Once the repartitioning is done, go ahead and choose the “Install to drive” option and follow the screen prompts.

Once the installation is done, you can safely reboot the machine.

You will be presented with a boot menu to choose the OS to start.

QED.

 

Here be the dragons!


I cannot believe that the MCE planners did not think things through.  Of how the traffic is to flow from East to West and vice versa as well as all the other exits from the AYE-ECP model.

I guess the clues to how they planned the MCE is quite clear in the video that the LTA created to explain how the MCE will benefit.

Let’s look at how they were selling the MCE.

a) At 0:12, the narrator says “… will change the way people travel East to West …”

b)  At 1:12, the narration is about taking Exit 3 to go to the Marina South Pier and Marina Bay Cruise Centre, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Barrage and Marina Bay Financial Centre.

c) At 1:59 the narration turns to traffic going East and taking Exit 2 to go to Gardens by the Bay, Marina Barrage and MBFC.

The focus of the narration is all about accessing the Marina Bay area. No where does the narration talk about the connectivities that the ECP had to Rochor and from Ophir. This means that as far as the LTA is concerned, traffic is all about new flows that have nothing to do with what is currently happening. In general, that is fine, but the fact is that what was a quick entry into the Rochor and exit via Ophir is now not available except via the new major trunk road, the Central Boulevard. This Central Boulevard (CB for short) exit is going to be the SINGLE merge point from any traffic exiting from the MCE going to the MBFC, Gardens etc. I am not sure of the capacity of the CB, but I reckon it will be a choke point. I think the majority of traffic getting out of the MCE is not going to the Cruise center etc but to the down town areas. Perhaps some of the load will be shared with the Maxwell Road exit (MCE Exit 1), but that is not ready until later. Maybe by then, the traffic flow will be much improved. All of this is something that the LTA should have considered before opening the MCE. What was the hurry to open it in stages when we all know that it will be a mess? Who gave the go ahead to open the MCE with these major links not ready? Did the Cabinet OK this?

Going back to the video, the key message early on was the traffic flow between East and West. It was only in the later part of the video at 2:40, any mention of going to the Northeast via KPE appears. So, the focus of the MCE is really for E<->W traversal.

If we accept that premise, then it completely befuddles me as to why the MCE->ECP exit is a TWO lane exit. One breakdown/accident on that exit means a 50% cut in road capacity meaning back ups in the MCE (all underground BTW) and a nightmare for anyone in a hurry to get to the airport. How did the planners NOT think through this?  How was the design review even signed off? Were there external consultants to give an independent review of the design?

If you look at the video the MCE->ECP exit is to the West and loops around before joining the northside of the ECP. There are NO major buildings or infrastructure in that area that is obvious to me that would have required the exit only having 2 lanes. Did the LTA actually determine conclusively that the original ECP eastbound traffic volume was mostly going to the Northeast via KPE and not enough going to the Bedok/Changi area hence validating the 2 lane exit? Really?

I don’t believe that the design is sound and I would urge the LTA to urgently relook and provide for at least two more lanes for the MCE->ECP exit.

Do it NOW.

I am very apprehensive now in going to the airport from the west. In one fell swoop, a fairly predictable eastbound ECP route is mired in a risky two lane MCE->ECP exit.

Just admit that a planning mistake was made. Let’s not wait for a situation before fixing it – numerous parliamentary seats are at risk.

Sparks of brilliance and WTFs!


The Land Transport Authority is the agency charged with all things land-based transport. 2013 is a busy year for them. Two major infrastructure projects came online. The first one was on December 22nd with the partial opening of the Down Town Line.  Although the rides are free until early January 2014, the DTL has had a few DOWN times. Perhaps the name of the line has jinxed it from the get go. I think we should do the noble thing and rename it Up Town Line with the hope that there will be no more DOWNtimes. And while we are at it, change the name of the “Tan Kah Kee” station to something with a geographical reference.

The second major infrastructure launch happened on December 29 – the Marina Coastal Expressway. The stated aim of the MCE’s construction is to free up the land that the ECP occupies in the reclaimed Marina area so that there will be better use of the land. It is a fair reason and one would have thought that LTA’s road planners would have factored in all the current traffic flow as well as future demands. Amidst all the fanfare of the opening of the MCE, there are fundamental design flaws in the MCE.

An expressway is defined by two things: first, the quality of the highway in getting you from point A to B including the road surface, markings, notices, lighting and related safety considerations. On that count, I think the MCE is world class.

The second item that an expressway is defined is by the EXITs it has. After all, to deliver the traffic from A to B, the EXITs come into play. On that count, the MCE is a failure. I’ll repeat it once more – the MCE EXITs are a failure.

I wrote up an initial impressions post last night. The surface roads in the Marina business district are not ready yet to accept the flow of traffic out of the MCE. I am sure the LTA is very aware of this shortcoming and in their defence, I think it is really hard to time the roll out of new road infrastructure in a major business district and expect all things to go well. I do not, however, see any form of engagement by the LTA about the problems that the MCE is causing and how to mitigate it. In the construction of the MRT lines, the LTA had done a lot of engagements with residents around the areas that the construction was happening to make sure that issues are addressed and managed. But since the MCE is a highway that was built in an unpopulated area, that type of public education and engagement was not done. Just look at the LTA website about how to navigate to the various places that we are all accustomed to. The biggest omission is how to get to/from the Rochor Road/Ophir Road areas and the MCE. Come on, LTA, you can do better.

LTA clearly has not learned enough from earlier screw ups with highway design. Yes, land is scarce and we all accept that. But when you are building a new highway in a RECLAIMED land and most of it being UNDERGROUND, what is stopping you from thinking through the issues?  I am fully aware that there will be tradeoffs in terms of cost, time and design. When you are presented with essentially an unbuilt up area, why make compromises?  I am ready to forget about getting to Rochor from the West or going West from Ophir. But I cannot forgive the TWO lane constriction on the Eastern end of the MCE to merge into ECP. Was that really a design constraint because of land? Way too many things need a clear and honest answer from the planners at the LTA. Don’t CYA please.

The LTA has sparks of brilliance interspersed with WTFs!

First impressions about the new Marina Coastal Expressway


I decided to take a spin onto the new Marina Coastal Expressway today.  And my first impression is that it is screwed up. Not the highway per se. The highway is top-notch. Five lanes in each direction. Fantastic surface where you don’t hear the tires at all. Smooth and probably worth the S$5billlion spent on the 5km expressway.

So, what’s wrong?  Here’s my list:

a) *Anyone* travelling from the West to the East (say to Fort Road), you will, if you choose to go via the AYE, be then marshalled into MCE (which is quite sweet I must say). You continue in the MCE and since you are goint to the East, you have to KEEP TO THE TWO LEFT lanes to make sure that you then get into the exit of MCE to ECP. So, 4 lanes of AYE, becomes 5 lanes of MCE then 2 lanes of the exit and then onto ECP/Fort Road. Yes, TWO lanes to ECP. I repeat, TWO lanes. If you MISSED this exit, you will continue from MCE into KPE and then have to turn around somewhere to undo your mistake.

b) If you are coming from the West and want to go to Rochor. Good luck. You’ll have to exit in the MCE – ie take an exit and go INTO the Central Business District – yes, ERP  and traffic light infested zone – and then navigate to the Rochor area. I did not take that exit on MCE today as I was not happy with what I saw in a) above.

c) You are coming from the East and want to down town. There is an exit that brings you to the Central Boulevard, but because the roads on the surface after exiting the MCE are still being realigned, it is a mess for now. I reckon those will be straightened out over the next few months.

d) You are coming down Ophir Road expecting to go West. Although I did not try that today, you will go up the ramp and go over the Sheares Bridge on to the South side of Marina Bay Sands (which was part of the ECP but no longer called the ECP but Sheares Avenue) and then navigate to enter the MCE and then onto the West.  Not sure of the swamp you will be in with lights and reduced lanes.

I am not happy with the way the MCE is breaking all the connections and travel patterns we have had with some yet to be proven improvements in traffic flow. I am very sure that the biggest congestion will be a the exit from MCE to ECP because of the lane reduction.

I cannot understand how the LTA could have royally screwed up with the MCE and how traffic flows. I am really disappointed. I could be completely wrong as I only saw a part of the how the MCE’s introduction changes the traffic flow. But I bet you, the mess will be enormous over the next week or so as people begin to adjust to the new realities.

I would like to perhaps suggest that MCE be temporarily changed from Marina Coastal Expressway to Most Cocked-up Expressway until the whole MCE plan is rolled out.

I know more than you do


I cannot help but continue to be baffled by the way the G responds to some of the continuing challenges that the nation faces.

Way back in 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced the formation of the Singapore Infocomm Technology Security Authority. It apparently is an entity within the Internal Security Department. Fast forward four years, the Ministry of Defence announces the setting up of a Cyber Defence Operations Hub. Not sure how much these two efforts are costing us, the tax payer, but suffice to say, an extra $130 million will apparently be spent on more cyber security stuff over the next 5 years. Nice.

Money is not an object is seems. There is plenty to be spent. Will any of this help create new software and hardware that is open? Will the tax dollars being spent enable the citizens to help and innovate upon? I suspect that they will not buy the “security by obscurity” meme and claim national security being paramount and so all things have to be hidden.

While all of this was happening, some websites got defaced. Defaced by groups who label themselves as “Messiah” and claiming affiliations with the Anonymous group. The clueless mainstream media, obviously, go about saying that the sites were “hacked”. Hacking is a noble thing. It is a skill, a frame of mind, a can do bravado. A cracker/vandal, on the other hand, is one who does not live up to the hacker ideals and ethics and abuses her skills. She is no different from a housebreaker who by day is a locksmith.

So, amidst all of these defacements and “cyberwar” preparedness, we get reports of some individuals being caught and the charged in court for allegedly undertaking the defacements. These alleged vandals, if we are to go by the MSM reports, seem to be nothing more than script-kiddies who could not even do the basic “cover your tracks” that any criminal worth his salt would have done. These script-kiddies merely locked on to pre-existing flaws in the sites they chose to vandalize and did the deed. Perhaps they deserve the book being thrown at them.

On the other hand, these alleged vandals could be fall guys. They were unskilled enough to have been caught.