Congratulations, Howie!


I am pleased to have had the opportunity to contest for the post of the president of the Singapore Computer Society at the AGM on Thusday March 26 and the meeting decided to vote in Howie Lau as the next SCS president.  My sincere and heartfelt congratulations go to him. If asked, I will be more than happy to serve in his committee this coming year.

My concerns for the SCS still remain.  As noted in my blog post, I would want to see the SCS find ways to maximize the asset we have (the SCS Resource Centre) in a way that we can then increase our cash and there by not have to increase membership fees but more importantly find ways to increase our activities to make this society people aspire to belong to.

The SCS has to be relevant to a whole new class of members. As I noted in my blog, we need dreamers, makers, shakers and doers. We should be pleased to have people rushing to join us and help with the overall growth in depth and influence of the IT sector in Singapore. Heck, I’d even thrown in the newfangled acronym, ICM (Info Comm and Media), although I feel not entirely convinced about the M part.

I’d like to see the establishment of a Fellow’s Council, which will be the brain trust of the SCS to whom we can solicit ideas, mentorship etc for the Society and Singapore at large.

I’d like to record my thanks to Chak for leading the SCS over the last three years. It has been a pleasure working with you and look forward to more opportunities to do the same especially in the area of displaced IT professionals.

In the meantime, congratulations Howie, more than happy to serve in your council.

homage


This was penned by my sister, Srila.

It is Nineteen Seventy-five

Thirteen years of age

Be aware of the world around you

Says Dad, bless his soul

So I begin to notice politics

LKY, Goh Keng Swee, Rajaratnam

Devan Nair, Hon Sui Sen, Othman Wok,

many others working as a team

Setting up systems, solving problems

Creating a nation where there was none

Creating opportunities within and without

in a world where size mattered

They had all the answers to all problems

Integrity, education, work ethics, quality

If the fundamentals are right, they showed us

The money will come.

They were right. It did and quickly.

The people, my Dad, and me – were sold.

This was Home, truly.

Why were there these other men then,

Jeyaratnam, Francis Seow, Chiam See Tong

And a few others, often lone voices

Challenging status quo, touting other points of view

at great risk to themselves

Pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, pre-twitter

It was hard to know if they spoke for the one

Or for the many,

for mainstream media never helped

Men who, once the opposition path chosen,

Could not stop or turn back easily

Lives spent standing up for an alternative path

Hits and humiliation taken

for the people, for Dad and for me.

Is it possible for a nation to be built by one man

Or is it many hands made up of different fingers

Moving in the same direction?

Nineteen Seventy-five, politically curious.

How interesting, a crisis in Australia

Whitlam, a giant, good looking man

Sacked by his boss and

Fraser, installed in his place

Would I have foreseen then

Thirty years almost to the day

That the fruits of policies they set in motion

Would see me call Australia home too?

A fair go, mateship, regardless of colour or creed,

work hard, play hard, welcome to our far corner

Bombarded with exciting new ways of thinking

Challenging ideas, differing views, exhilarating debates

So many new opportunities for a new migrant

Made possible by men I only knew by name

In Nineteen Seventy-five.

Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser and Lee Kuan Yew

Pass away within six months of each other.

Goh Keng Swee, Rajaratnam, Devan Nair, Jeyaratnam,

And others, pre-deceased.

Millions like me, in both my homes, have what we have

Because of leaders who were good men.

Good leaders are often controversial,

Both in life and in death

But that they were good men, like Dad, who did their best

Will stand the test of time.

Charting the future of the Singapore Computer Society


As some of you might know, I am a Fellow of the Singapore Computer Society. That honour was conferred on me in 2009 for my contributions to the IT profession as well as to the SCS. It’s humbling to have that recognition – the SCS is, after all, my professional body.

Which brings me to this: I have thrown in my hat to run for the office of the President of the Singapore Computer Society. The elections will be held on Thursday March 26 2015.

This year, the position will be contested by two persons, Howie Lau and myself. Howie is a great stalwart of the SCS and it is a privilege to have had many delightful opportunities to work with him in the SCS executive council over the years.

I am using this post to place on record my vision for the Singapore Computer Society so that members who would be at the AGM will be able to vote based on who they deem is the best person whose vision resonates with the membership.

Harish Pillay, Fellow SCS

Candidate for President, Singapore Computer Society

Statement from Candidate:

The Singapore Computer Society was founded in 1967 and come 2017, will be marking 50 years of serving Singapore’s IT professionals. It is time to look forward to the next half-century and beyond.

The IT world has changed dramatically since SCS’ founding. Back then computers were large systems owned and operated by a select group of businesses and government. In the intervening years, computers have become ubiquitous. It is everywhere we look.

Over the years, the SCS has recognized that membership of the SCS has to keep up with the changes in the industry as well as keeping the professional current and relevant.

We have a total of just over 30,000 members which includes about 8,000 professional (and membership fee paying) at it’s core, and the rest student members from the various institutions of higher learning in Singapore.

Looking into the future, the SCS needs bold and fresh ideas to engage, enthuse and attract members who identify and live the goals and mission of the Singapore Computer Society. Our member demography has to be as wide as possible especially with the growing groups of tech entrepreneurs. Their energy, enthusiasm and drive will help the SCS be a thriving and relevant organization.

The SCS needs makers, dreamers and artists in addition to suits and ties. The SCS has to be relevant to them as their professional organization that they choose to belong to.

As president of the SCS, here are some of the action items I would want to run with:

a) Recognizing that the chapters and special interest groups form the base rock of the SCS, to make sure that they continue to be relevant to the membership and to review their structure and activities to revitalize them to engage strongly across the membership.

b) Rationalize the use of Infopier’s asset to further the ideals of the Society.

c) Ensure that the Society has a strong voice in issues relating to copyright and patents especially those around software and make representations as needed. Technology, largely driven by computers, are dramatically changing many aspects of society and being plugged into and being cognizant of issues that impact members are very important (including the ongoing Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations).

d) Review the SCS Resource Center’s charter/usage to maximize the revenue potential. No, this is not a suggestion to sell, but a suggestion to look at doing good with it.

e) Establish a Fellow’s Council which will include all Fellows of the SCS. It will be constituent body of the SCS that offers mentorship, guidance and general support to SCS and its membership.

f) Review the use of proxy votes in AGMs/EGMs. A member acting as a proxy should not represent more than 20 members at these meetings (there are no limits currently). In addition, the SCS must explore and implement an electronic voting system similar to what the IEEE does.

My credentials:
2013: Distinguished Partner, SPRING Singapore, for contributions to IT Standards Committee (ITSC.org.sg) and promotion of software programming in Singapore.
2009: SCS Fellow for contributions to the Society and the local ICT Industry
2005: Inducted into Council of Outstanding Early Career Engineers, College of Engineering, Oregon State University for contributions to the computer/electrical engineering profession.
2005: I was Deputy Commander of Ops Lion Heart of the Singapore Civil Defence Force Search and Rescue Team and was deployed in Banda Aceh following the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

I received my BSCS and MSEE both from Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA in 1988 and 1990 respectively.

My relationship with the SCS started in 1991. I was then the Chairman of the BBS SIG, which got renamed the Internet SIG.

In the 2000s, I got elected into the SCS executive committee. In the SCS ExCo, I have held various portfolios such as the Editor of publication “IT Society”, Chairman of Community Outreach, Advisor to the Wireless Chapter, member of Thought Leadership Panel etc.

A little known factoid is that I personally manage the scs.org.sg email domain and mail forwarding for the Society’s members. In many ways it is tech therapy for me as doing it keeps the skills alive and is my on-going contribution to my professional society.

In  1993 I founded the Linux Users’ Group (Singapore). In 1996, I organized  the inaugural APRICOT (Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on  Operational Technologies) which is a regional, week long event that trains and engages with technical and policy community around all things about  the Internet. SCS was the host of APRICOT 1996 and 1999. APRICOT continues to be held annually around the Asia Pacific region.

I am the current president of the Internet Society Singapore Chapter and my two year term ends in August 2015.

Employment:
I am currently working at Red Hat Asia Pacific heading up a global group that engages with the worldwide free and open source community of developers and hackers as well as working on public policy around technology in governments around the Asia Pacific region. I have been with Red Hat for about 13 years now holding various technology, sales and consulting roles. Previous to Red Hat, I had three start ups all in the technology and application services space.

I am married and my wife and I have two teenaged sons.

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!