Working around censorship


The Internet is a wonderful and absolutely essential resource that needs to be looked after, managed well and secured so that it can deliver the vast benefits to humanity and more.

But along with that massive good that the Internet brings, there are aspects of the Internet which is deemed negative. I refer specifically to information available on the Internet that would be deemed by some parties to be against their interest.

I must make things clear that what I am talking about is freedom of speech and the freedom to read what I want. You are free to say what you want, and I have the right to ignore what you are saying if it is not true, is rude, is demeaning. If what one says is dangerous (like physical abuse), it is definitely not acceptable.

Let the marketplace of ideas flourish. It is in this petri dish of ideas that help sharpen viewpoints, surface unthought of possibilities. When there is a contest of ideas (could be done using a platform like kialo and no, it is not an open source tool (yet)) are entered into, amazing things can and will surface. That’s the beauty of keeping things open and inviting.

The Internet brings forth many angles about things, but like it is in real life, not everyone will have spent time and effort on getting a full understanding (perfect information) , but at least, there is a much higher chance that everyone could have opportunity to get to that level.

The debates around falsehoods and dubious information on the Internet is nothing new. Falsehoods have always been part of the human condition. There is a Tamil saying “a thousand lies can be said for the sake of a marriage” or something like that.

The way societies have tackled falsehoods is via laws that can be invoked to address it. Laws that address fraud and libel are generally what gets invoked. It is a difficult thing to have to go to court around a libel or fraud, but that’s the process. That process has stood the test of time and is very well documented and understood. In addition to the legal track, there is another means as well to counter falsehoods: getting whoever that makes that falsehood to apologise if indeed what is said is untrue. It is far better to apologise, have an arrangement between parties and move on. Invoking the legal process is expensive and can be long drawn and the outcome can’t be assured.

So, when governments start going after websites (for example) saying that those websites are carrying falsehoods, we end up with an asymmetric power balance. On the average, website operators/owners are not as financially endowed as governments can be and in many cases, he legal route is seen to be a way to silence opponents or those with inconvenient truths.

We saw that in Malaysia when The Sarawak Report started uncovering massive corruption in Sarawak (the Chief Minister siphoning off monies from the state to benefit his family and later the 1MDB scandal). Malaysia’s former prime minister, Najib Razak, was not happy with the revelations about corruption in the IMDB as reported by The Sarawak Report, that he ordered that site to be blocked from access within Malaysia. What the former prime minister could have done is to sue the site for libel. But that would mean having to counter the allegations on the site with relevant information. Blocking is a, frankly, a sure indicator that there is some element of truth in what is being blocked.

The resources of the government can bear up very heavily on a website if the site was brought to court. This will work if the site contains false, incorrect and otherwise wrong information. People will be able to see the truth for themselves. But when a government goes after a site by blocking it, it raises the question: you are blocking because there is truth in it?

The Sarawak Report clearly won the game of siteblocking in Malaysia. The former prime minsiter, his wife and many of his regime are being investigated for corruption now.

So, what can you do if a site is being blocked because the government/regulators order it? Use the Tor Project. Tor allows for anonymous access to sites going past censors. Of course the likes of the Great Firewall of China are always trying to thwart the tor protocol and vpn systems. The Chinese CP and government are so insecure that they cannot afford anyone to know anything other than the official narrative.

If you are using a smart phone, you can install Tor and accompanying Tor browser as well. See https://www.torproject.org/download/download-easy.html.en for the download options including for your laptop/desktop. For Android, go to: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.torproject.android and for the Apple people: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/onion-browser/id519296448.censored-stamp-shows-prohibited-and-censorship-182563c

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NASA Space Apps Challenge 2018 – Singapore


It was wonderful that Red Hat’s Open Innovation Labs is a sponsor of this year’s NASA Space Apps Challenge event that is being held in Singapore. It was held at LEVEL3‘s offices at the Mapletree Business Park in Pasir Panjang.

At the briefing session held on Tuesday, 16th October 2018, there was a good turnout of more than 120 interested participants.

The briefing session featured four speakers, Bidushi Bhattacharya, Michelle Gillmour, Sandra Arps and Chirdeep Chhabra.

 

L-R: Sandra Arps, Michelle Gillmour, Bidushi Bhattacharya (via remote)

 

The Ocean Protocol by Chirdeep Chhabra.

This year’s Space Apps Challenge had a bunch of categories that were formulated by NASA which also included access to the vast amounts of data the NASA has accumulated about Earth and the cosmos.

The actual hackathon was held over the weekend (as any good hackathon would) of 20/21 October 2018  at the same location and, as is expected, the turn out of participants will always be lesser than those who showed up during the briefing.

Anyway, it is all about participation and I am glad that those who did eventually show up did a good job. The pitch hour was on Sunday at about 3pm and here’s the list of 19 who pitched.

In the end, the judging had to be done to come up with the overall winner and it was a tough process of choosing from a good set of pitches and teams.

The eventual winner was team Inferno (left) who gets S$1k and some Ocean Prototol tokens and the 2nd prize went to c10ud (right).


Congratulations all on this exciting hackathon.

I am glad that we were able to mentor the participants around Lean Canvas that the OIL uses as part of our consulting and mentoring work.

Next year, I would want to take part in this myself with a team for at least this can be my long unfulfilled dream of doing something about Space since watching on a black & white TV, Neil Armstrong jump off the ladder from the Apollo 11 Lunar Module and stand and walk on the moon in 1969. I still want to go to the moon (and thanks to Kelvin for locating the talk from 2007).

Not allowed to code? Really?


[image from: http://cdn.blog.safe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/no-coding.png]

Lots of interesting, but not surprising, information is being made public about the Singhealth data breach.

The Commitee of Inquiry has been told that there was an IHIS employee who found a bug in the Allscripts “Sunrise Clinic Manager” EMR in 2014 who then made the loophole known to a rival of Allscripts, Epic Systems Corporation. Both of these vendors products are closed, proprietary and, IMHO, unnecessarily and excessively expensive products.

From this report (again, this is MSM reporting, so take it with two pinches of salt – you have to read the court transcript which I am not sure if available, yet, if ever), says that the IHIS employee was “unhappy” that he could not do coding in the job role he was doing and so, he then decided to contact Epic to tell them of the issue so that it could “… leverage the vulnerability to gain a larger market share” (emphasis mine).

Larger market share? How so? The hospital clusters in Singapore are about evenly locked-in between these two proprietary vendors. Moving from one to another is not a simple thing. And one bug does not even start the thinking process. Who knows if the Epic product has similar issues?

Not being able to ascertain if the reason offered by the former IHIS employee is indeed valid, I find that it seems to be a fluffy afterthought. Having been caught out, the former IHIS employee is offering excuses.

Not Allowed To Code?

I find that reason to be intriguing. Did the job that the IHIS exmployee took on involve coding? No indication in the report. If that was what the person wanted to do, why not channel the skills an open source project that could use help? No one will stop you from doing that, unless, the terms of employment of IHIS says that a developer “cannot work on any software project other than what is part of the job”.

I have no insights on what the terms of employment are, but here is an example of an enlightened and correct way to encourage developers:

“Participation in an open source project, whether maintained by the Company or by another commercial or non-commercial entity or organization, does not constitute a conflict of interest even where such participant makes a determination in the interest of the project that is adverse to the Company’s interests.”

– taken from page 3 of https://investors.redhat.com/~/media/Files/R/Red-Hat-IR/governance-docs/code-of-business-conduct-and-ethics.pdf

Software developers are artists. Software development is an art form. One would not constraint a painter, so why would one shackle a software developer?

Bug Reporting, Fixing and Regression Testing

If a bug is reported – whether it is a “the button is of the wrong shape” or “this option dumps out the entire database”, assuming that proprietary vendors have a bug reporting process – nope, they don’t – then things can be moved along without too much excitement. All software have bugs. If a vendor (open or closed) does not offer a way to report bugs, you have to demand that there is a way to do it.  Red Hat has both bugzilla.redhat.com and access.redhat.com to submit bug reports on all of the open source projects and open source products (go here for an understanding of the differences between open source projects and an open source products) that Red Hat is involved in and makes available to paying customers (access.redhat.com).

Maybe there is a some place at Allscripts and at Epic Systems that one can file bug reports, but it is not immediately evident.

Regardless of being able to report bugs, I do wonder how these vendor organizations manage bug reporting/fixing and regression testing. I have to assume that they do it properly (for some definition of properly) but it is telling that a trainer of Allscripts said this:

“Another witness, however, called the loophole “perfectly normal”. Mr Loo Yew Tuck, senior lead analyst at IHiS’ clinical care department, said that he had seen an Allscripts trainer demonstrate its use and method previously.”

Really? There is a “perfectly normal” loophole? Or did he mean, backdoor (of the NSA type)?

I particularly concerned with this paragraph – as reported in another MSM report

“… She also did not know the details of the alleged loophole. Neither did she ask her staff for it to be verified. She also assumed that the problem would be rendered “irrelevant” as IHIS had just upgraded the EMR system architecture”.

If the bug is not reported, how would one know if it was really an issue and if so, if it was indeed fixed? Granted, we cannot all be on top of things all the time, but if there isn’t a process to track issues, what then?

“… did only what … was asked to …”

Leadership and empowerment failure. Whether it is real or otherwise it is hard to tell. Perhaps there is a culture of empowerment but not everyone got the memo. Of maybe not. I can’t tell.

Happy 35th Birthday GNU!


The GNU project was officially announced on 27 September 1983 by Richard Stallman. Thirty-five years of a project that has now become the fundamental building block of everything we use and see in technology in 2018. I would not be wrong to say that there isn’t a single proprietary piece of software that anyone is still using from 35 years ago – please post comments if there is something still being used.

There is only one reason for this longevity: the GNU project was built upon the premise that the code is available to anyone, anywhere with the only restriction that whatever is done to the code, it shall always be available to anyone, forever. Richard Stallman’s genius in crafting the copyleft license is the GNU General Public License is probably the best hack of the 20th century software industry.

What was I doing in 1983? I was working at the Computer Systems Advisors (no longer around, after being bought up by CSC). I was working on a system from DEC – the PDP-11/44 running RSX-11. We were creating software using Digital’s DIBOL – a variant of COBOL. DIBOL was, IMHO, the sink-hole of GOTO statements. I truly did not like that language. I can’t pinpoint why, but it just did not appeal to me. I had learned FORTRAN and BASIC before and they were so much more expressive. Editing the code in the PDP-11 was using some editing tool (perhaps teco or something) on a VT-100 terminal that was attached to the RSX-11 system. I think I was working on some insurance company’s bespoke code – but, frankly, those are all wishy-washy to me now.

The IBM PC was becoming an interesting offering and CSA’s sister organization, Automated Systems, got the distributorship of the Corona Data Systems PC. I got asked to take on the Corona PC as a main product person, I began my involvement with the PC-DOS/MS-DOS/CP/M world. I was learning a lot about this world with the ISA cards, Interrupts, RAM cards, RS-232 terminal connectivity, writing Interrupt Service Routines, terminate-and-stay-routines, and later 3Com‘s network cards – 3C501, 3C509 etc) with coaxial cables (yes, you better terminate the end of the bus with a terminator plug or else the network freezes). I recall that there was some networking software to share files (perhaps 3+Share or the like).

In parallel, the reason for the PC (including the Apple ][) getting traction in the early 1980s, was the famous spreadsheet product called VisiCalc created by VisiCorp. Their success encouraged VisiCorp to create something else called Visi On. This was an interesting product that provided a GUI for the IBM PC.

Automated Systems managed to get the distributorship of Visi On and I was then tasked with understanding the product and helping to get the training/sales going. There were many things I liked about it, but there was a lot more I could not understand because of the lack of documentation – or rather, insufficient documentation – on how to program in it etc. I recall a training session for a customer who specifically asked about creating macros for Visi On like one could with VisiCalc. To whoever that asked me then, I still don’t know.

I am sad to note that none of those closed, proprietary products are around. The loss of all of the good work done by the developers of those products is disappointing. If they had the foresight of Richard Stallman and made the code available, we might be on a different trajectory with technology than where we are now.

 

A healthcare IT foundation built on gooey clay


Today, there was a report from the Solicitor General of Singapore about the data breach of the SingHealth systems that happened in July.

These systems have been in place for many years. They are almost exclusively running Microsoft Windows along with a mix of other proprietary software including Citrix and Allscript.  The article referred to above failed to highlight that the compromised “end-user workstation” was a Windows machine. That is the very crucial information that always gets left out in all of these reports of breaches.

I have had the privilege of being part of an IT advisory committee for a local hospital since about 2004 (that committee has disbanded a couple of years ago, btw).

Every year, budgetary proposals for updates, new versions etc., of the software that the advisory committee gets for consideration and possible approval. Almost always, I would be the exception in the committee in questioning the continued use of expensive proprietary software for these healthcare systems (a contributory factor to increasing health care costs). But because I am the lone contrarian voice, inevitably, the vote will be made to approve and hence continue, IMHO, the wasteful path of spending enormous amounts of monies in these proprietary systems.

I did try, many times, to propose using open source solutions like, for example, virtualization from KVM. This is already built in into the Linux kernel that you can get full commercial support from Red Hat (disclosure: I work for Red Hat). You pay a subscription and we make sure that the systems are running securely (via SELinux for a start) and that enterprise can focus on their core business. But no, they continued with VMware.

I did propose open source solutions like OpenEMR and many other very viable solutions for the National Electronic Medical Records system – but none of them were accepted. (It has been brought to my attention that there are plans to mandate private sector healthcare providers to use the NEHR. There is considerable opposition to it both from the hassle (from their point of view) and added costs since the solution is proprietary and expensive).

There were some glimpses of hope in the early years of being on the committee, but it was quickly snuffed out because the “powers that be” did not think open source solutions would be “good enough”. And open source solutions are still not accepted as part of the healthcare IT architecture.

Why would that be the case?

Part of the reason is because decision makers (then and now) only have experience in dealing with proprietary vendor solutions. Some of it might be the only ones available and the open source world has not created equivalent or better offerings. But where there are possibly good enough or even superior open source offerings, they would never be considered – “Rather go with the devil I know, than the devil I don’t know. After all, this is only a job. When I leave, it is someone else’s problem.” (Yeah, I am paraphrasing many conversations and not only from the healthcare sector).

I recall a project that I was involved with – before being a Red Hatter – to create a solution to create a “computer on wheels” solution to help with blood collection. As part of that solution, there was a need to check the particulars of the patient who the nurse was taking samples from. That patient info was stored on some admission system that did not provide a means for remote, API-based query. The vendor of that system wanted tens of thousands of dollars to just allow the query to happen. Daylight robbery. I worked around it – did screen scrapping to extract the relevant information.

Healthcare IT providers look at healthcare systems as a cashcow and want to milk it to the fullest extent possible (the end consumer bears the cost in the end).

Add that to the dearth of technical IT skills supporting the healthcare providers, you quickly fall into that vendor lock-in scenario where the healthcare systems are at the total mercy of the proprietary vendors.

Singapore is not unique at all. This is a global problem.

Singapore, however, has the potential to break out of this dismal state if only there is both technical, management and political leadership in the healthcare system. The type of leadership that would want to actively pursue by all means possible to make healthcare IT as low cost and yet supportable, reliable and more importantly, be able to create a domestic ecosystem to support (not via Government-linked companies).

I did propose many times to create skunkworks projects and/or run hackathons to create solutions using open source tools to seed the next generation of local solutions providers. As I write this, it has not happened.

To compound the lack of thought leadership, the push in the 2000s to “outsource IT” meant that what remaining technically skilled people there were, got shortchanged as the work went to these contract providers (some of these skilled people were transferred to these outsourcee firms but left shortly after, because it was just BS).

This also meant that over time, the various entities who outsourced IT were just relationship managers with the outsourcee companies.It is not in the interest of the outsourcee companies to propose solutions that could lower the cost overall as it could affect the outsourcee’s revenue model. So, you have a catch-22: no in-house IT/architecture skills and no interest at all on the part of the outsourcees to propose a lower cost and perhaps better solutions.

I would be happy, if asked, to put together a set of solutions that will steadily address all of the healthcare IT requirements/solutions. I want this to then trigger the creation of a local ecosystem of companies that can drive these solutions not only for Singapore’s own consumption as well as to export it globally.

We have the smarts to do this. The technical community of open source developers are, I am very confident, able to rise to the challenge. We need political thought leadership to make this so.

Give me the new hospital in Woodlands to make the solutions work. I want to be able to do as much of it using commercially supported open source products (see this for a discussion of open source projects vs open source products), and build a whole suite of supportable open source solutions that are open to the whole world to innovate upon. It would be wonderful to see https://health.gov.sg/opensource/ (no it does not exist yet).

There are plenty of ancient, leaky, and crufty systems in the current healthcare IT systems locally. We need to make a clean break from it for the future.

The Smart Nation begs for it. 

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the following at GeekCamp SG 2015 (video):

I believe in a #SmartNation with an open source society and immense opportunities; where everyone can share, participate and co-create solutions to enrich and improve quality of life for ourselves and our fellow Singaporeans.

And for completeness, the actual post is here (it is a public page; i.e., no account needed):

I am ready.  Please join me.

What I’ve learned in 15 years at Red Hat


[image credit: https://goldenageofgaia.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Spock-shades.jpg%5D

In September 2003, I was asked by Gus Robertson to consider joining Red Hat – essentially to kickstart the Red Hat office in Singapore/ASEAN. I was at that time running my own open source consultancy – Maringo Tree Technologies.

I did try to get Red Hat to acquire MTT, but that did not go far. Red Hat had just done a JV in India and was not looking to do another even as an acquisition so soon. In any case that JV was subsequently bought out fully by Red Hat in 2005.

I started at Red Hat as the Chief Technology Architect. I would not say that Red Hat was my dream company to be at, but most everything I did before was all about Free and Open Source Software.

Time Before Red Hat (yes, there was)

I had no direct interest in the notions of software licensing (see this post about the Singapore Ohio Scientific Owers’ Group from 1982 – yes, predates establishment of the venerable Free Software Foundation). Even my 1989 MSEE thesis (link to PDF) was about creating software but I never did consider the licensing of it because lots of it was given to me or copied from USENET newsgroups.

I, together with Greg Hosler, Mathias Koeber, Ng Hak Beng,  and a bunch of others, set up the Singapore Linux Users’ Group in 1993. That was about when Red Hat itself was setup. I was fortunate enough to have been in situations where I could help drive the conversation and technology forward. I helped by distributing diskettes of Soft Landing Systems, Yggdrasil, Slackware etc either via the LUGS or directly. I was more concerned with getting the code out there and people benefitting from it. LUGS even created our own distribution in 2000 called EasyLinux.

I wrote up some how-tos – IP Masquerade, IP Alias, DialD, and lots of other stuff – I can’t recall what else – but suffice to say, these efforts were unexpectedly “rewarded” by shares being offered when Red Hat was planning on an Initial Public Offering.

I recall receiving an email from Red Hat and eTrade in 1999 (unfortunately, I can’t locate that email) in which it said that I was being given some shares (I don’t recall how many) to acknowledge the contributions made to the community. The only reference to the thinking at Red Hat about this is in an article in the Linux Magazine of November 15, 1999.

July 1999: The Community

It was clear that Red Hat wanted all the open source developers who had made its success possible to participate in its public offering. Red Hat would be nowhere without the hackers, and the company knew it.

Red Hat Director of Technical Projects Donnie Barnes spent three weeks scouring the Internet, digging up all the contributor lists to all the open source projects he could find. Red Hat then had to craft a letter to this list of developers. The SEC has a complex set of rules about what companies can and cannot say when they offer shares to the public. If a company doesn’t stay well within the rules, the SEC can –
and regularly does — withhold permission to proceed with an IPO.

“I’m sure they have very important and well-researched reasons for implementing each and every one of these rules,” Young said. “But to the companies who have to negotiate these rules on their way to a public offering, they appear designed solely for the purpose of ensuring the mental collapse of anyone who attempts to navigate through them.”

For example, the SEC-imposed quiet period “was one of the more bizarre notions to a salesman like me,” Young said. “How can you sell shares in your company if you are not allowed to promote your company for three months before your IPO or for a further month after your IPO? This letter to developers could describe the offer, but not mention any reason why anyone should want to accept the offer. That would be
promoting the shares in the quiet period — a big no-no according to the rules.” Red Hat ended up with a letter which, while legally acceptable, was “sufficiently badly worded to end up alienating a significant percentage of the developers we mailed it to,” Young said.

The SEC has a set of rules governing who is eligible to purchase shares in an IPO. First, you must be a U.S.-based taxpayer to buy IPO shares that are listed on an American exchange. This eliminated about half of the developers on the list from participating in the offer, according to Red Hat.

The SEC also has a set of rules designed to protect the public from scam artists who use public stock offers to con inexperienced investors out of their money.

“In effect the SEC deems IPO offers to be extremely high-risk investments, and therefore buyers of shares in IPOs must prove that they are experienced investors who can afford to lose the money they are being asked to invest,” Young said.

Unfortunately a significant percentage — about 15 percent — of the developers to whom Red Hat offered shares were either students or otherwise inexperienced investors by the SEC’s standards.

“And of course this offer was not being made by the SEC — it was being made by Red Hat and E*TRADE. So when members of the development community that we had extended the offer to found themselves declared ineligible, they initially naturally blamed Red Hat and E*TRADE,” Young said.

The final result was that well over one-fifth of the developers on the list were interested, eligible, and able to participate in the Red Hat IPO.

(extracted from http://www.linux-mag.com/id/348/)

I accepted the shares from Red Hat and I guess I was part of the 1/5th.

For the record, I think I did sell the shares later (along with the shares that I later received from VA Linux when they IPOed). It was a very nice gesture on both Red Hat’s and VA Linux’s part and I am thankful.

When Red Hat offered me a position in 2003, I was very aware that this is a business that is trying to do the Right Thing.  While I was trying to figure out the value of such a move, I was provided with the relevant employment documents to sign. In one of them, a particular paragraph stood out for me.

In the Red Hat Code of Business Conduct and Ethics (a PDF from https://investors.redhat.com/corporate-governance/governance-documents), this paragraph was pivotal:

Participation in an open source community project, whether maintained by the Company or by another commercial or non-commercial entity or organization, does not constitute a conflict of interest even where you may make a determination in the interest of the project that is adverse to the Company’s interests.
(from the bottom of page 2 of the PDF)

I did not, then, have to think twice. I signed.

With that stoke of the pen, my tenure at Red Hat started officially on 8th September 2003. I still had Maringo Tree Technologies and I had to find a way to exit it and eventually I did.

Fifteen years is a significant amount of one’s lifespan to be spent with a single entity (assuming a 30-40 year work career). Red Hat is the 7th organization I am with: CSA Group (1st job, employee, Singapore), Microsoft (intern, employee, USA), Sembawang Media (management Singapore), Brokat (technical management Singapore/Germany), Inquisitive Mind (co-founder/management/technical Singapore) and Maringo Tree Tech (founder/management Singapore),

Each stint provided experience and exposure to different aspects of the business/technology world. Perhaps the most challenging was to be your own boss at Maringo Tree Tech. While the time spent at MTT was relatively short, I am proud of what I was able to achieve. I suppose the work at MTT  was the lead-in into Red Hat for I had approached Red Hat as my own business even though, technically, I was an employee.

The thought process that says that the place you are employed is your own business, instead “it is just a job”, is a very powerful and empowering mental state. I want to make open source wildly successful and I was using Maringo Tree Tech as the vehicle to make that happen. When Red Hat came knocking on the door, it made immense sense to me that I should hitch on the Red Hat branding to drive my conviction forward.

I, had, at the back of my mind (and perhaps still valid today), that should I ever decide to part with Red Hat, I will still be doing the exact same thing but under a different label. That would be just fine.

What does 15 years at Red Hat mean for me? First, it is testimony that it is a growing organization and will continue to define how technology should be created, curated and consumed. That, the pursuit of fiscal goals has to be in congruence and cadence with ensuring the health and wealth of the commons. The commons comprise people from around the world who, once empowered by technology, are able to display and benefit from their talents and skills that can only but move the needle forward positively.

My early years at Red Hat were spent making sure the ONE product we had, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (2.1 and 3) were being made available to customers. I was tech support, sales, order entry, delivery person, spokesperson, evangelist, keynote speaker, community pointman and the go-to-for-everything-open-source-and-Red-Hat in South East Asia person.

It was not until late 2004 that Red Hat decided to re-draw the sales organization for Asia Pacific in creating an APAC HQ in Singapore for sales and marketing, Red Hat Brisbane to be the APAC engineering HQ, and to create six regions within APAC (ASEAN, ANZ, India, Korea, Japan, China). This change meant that we will have new Red Hatters focused on the selling of products and services but who might not have cut their teeth in free/open source software but were from the dark side, aka, proprietary software vendors. This is a necessary “evil”, but something that can be managed with the right amount of training and exposure. That was what happened when Red Hat University was setup in 2006 and I was asked to head that up for APAC, or more specifically the Sales College (which was the only college under RHU in APAC then).

I think, my time with the Sales College and especially in running the week-long Sales Boot Camp, was a very important personal challenge. Through the Sales Boot Camp, I helped transform a whole lot of open source migrants to become champions of open source. Not all of them got to their open source a-ha moment, but those who did, were sold on it. They could not do anything else as the fact that we are not shortchanging our customers by promises and handwaving but with solid and independently verifiable technology was not something to be walking away from.

In the meantime, our product portfolio started to grow. JBoss came on board in 2006, Qumranet in 2008, Makara and Gluster in 2010, CEPH in 2014, Ansible in 2015 and CoreOS in 2018 just to name some major acquisitions.

My sales quota in 2003 was US$100k and Red Hat’s revenue then was about US$126.1 million. Today, 2018, revenue is at US$2.9 billion. That’s a whopping 23x growth in revenue in 15 years. In the 60 quarters I’ve now been with Red Hat, every quarter has been better than the previous.

While the business grows with a plethora of products and service, where in the scheme of things does Red Hat understand how the open source community of projects are faring? These projects become open source products that our customers consume (via a subscription). The incredibly fine balance of open source projects and open source products is something that I’ve speak about because there is still an insufficient appreciation of what an open source project is when it become a product that a corporate entity has to be held accountable for.

Wtih the fine balance of project vs product, it is just as important to be able to gain insights into the open source projects that feed into the products. This was what lead me to start an internal project “Prospector” project in 2012. In 2017, Prospector became part of the CHAOSS Project of the Linux Foundation. Much work continues to be needed and I am working on many fronts to make that happen.

Which in a meandering way, brings me to today, 8th September 2018.

What would the next 15 years bring? What I know for sure is that it will be based on a widely distributed and decentralised world built on free/open source software and open hardware.

This will be a world that will bring the remaining unconnected 3+ billion members of the human family into the digital world, The tech flavours of today (AI, Machine Learning, Distributed Ledgers), having been built on free/open source software, will blaze the trail into new applications to better the human condition and the planet’s health.

The future is so open and bright, I need shades!

Why is 10 million people the target for Singapore?


 

This is a number that keeps coming up every now and then. Sometime in January 2013, a white paper released by the then government (which happens to be the same now) about pegging the population on this 720 sq km island to about 6.9 million people – and that number is to be arrived at by about 2030.

Lots of debates have been held, and the PAP-dominated parliament endorsed the paper with 77 yes, 13 nos and 1 abstention – for some reason, the Hansard does not show Inderjit Singh’s absence and hence his non-vote. Inderjit was highly critical of the paper and since the whip was not lifted, he “did not attend the vote”.  Personally, the fact that I am not a member of any of the parties in Singapore is because of this archaic notion of a party whip.

Anyway, this post is not about that white paper, but about the 10 million we keep hearing.

I was privileged to have had the opportunity to work for a really wonderful person, Ong Wee Hock, who at that time was the General Manager of CSA Holdings (now part of CSC)  and I was his Chief Technology Consultant (in fact, I was the only techie in CSA Holdings). This was the period of 1993-1995. Wee Hock and I would spend most mornings from about 10 am till almost noon talking about technology, society and the economy. All of the discussions were both a conversation as well as a debate. There were things that I did not quite agree with him and he readily welcomed the contrary view and accepted it when it was clear to him that the argument was better. One of it had to do with the how the Internet will take off and completely sideline TV (the traditional broadcast TV). I told him that I much rather have audio (via radio broadcasts in this case) for it allows me to continue to do things that I needed but have an ear out for the audio. This was a conversation specifically around broadcasts that involve the Parliament. The Singapore budget was due to be announced by the Finance Minister and since it was broadcast on TV and radio live, he wanted to be able to catch it in the office. It was a challenge to set up a TV point in his room but a radio was trivial. When I got both of it going for him in his room, he conceded that since the budget speech would be just a speech, the radio would be more than sufficient and with his usual smile said, “Harish, you are right. There are times when just audio is sufficient.”

The reason I am mentioning Wee Hock here is about some topics we spoke about in the morning meetings. One specific item keeps coming back to me – that “EDB in the 1980s was working on a plan that at Year X, Singapore would have 10 million people”. Wee Hock was a scholar (Colombo Plan I believe) and was EDB Chief in Europe in the 1980s. He was also an author of an EDB plan around some manpower projections or something that he and his co-author appreared on local TV explaining in the 1976 or 1977. I recall that because that topic came up in GP class – although I am not sure what my class concluded.

He was explaining to me that EDB’s planning considered what was the ideal number of people in a population that will ensure sustainability in many areas – arts, culture, science, engineering, business, finance etc. It turns out that 10 million is that magic number. I challenged him asking how would we fit that many into Singapore. Mind you this was when were were about 3.5-4 million (1995 or so). His argument was that we could build “floating islands” off of the East Coast that could house townships that are linked to mainland via a combination of bridges and tunnels. The engineering for these islands would be from what was being done for the Japanese Kansai airport.  We could also harness wave power to generate electricity and even contemplate some form of nuclear power generators. [He was not aware of the, IMHO, a safer and simpler way to generate nuclear power via molten salt reactors.]

He felt that the 10 million was a doable number but it needed some critical development both in terms of technology for land reclamation, housing technologies, agro tech innovations, transport and energy generation. He was of the opinion that the underlying enabler of all of this is advances in computing technology.

To his credit, he did also say that, ultimately, it is upto the political leadership to sell the idea in a manner that the population could accept. As an economic planner, he knew what were the key buttons that needed to be pressed to make things happen. The biggest button was public trust.

So, let’s fast forward to 2018. Today, Sunday 19th August, as I write this up, I am reminded by a tweet that there is a National Day Rally event happening

The National Day Rally was something I looked forward to. It reminded me of my principal, Philip Liau, when he spoke at the school assembly on Wednesdays, His topics were varied and interesting. Everyone paid attention. It was like that for the National Day Rally. Sadly, this current PM does not have that import unlike LKY. GCT who had some of it and Loong who has none. If this was being delivered by Tharman, I would have eagerly watched.

Long story short: this 10 million issue will come up I am sure. Will it be part of today’s National Day Rally? Probably not. Would the million dollar ministerial salary on going train wreck by GCT be addressed? Probably not. [It is telling that as far as I know, no PAP minister has made a single comment about GCT’s statement. The silence is very loud.] We are about 2 years from the next General Election. The one party in power model has to be broken. It will not be sustainable.

Don’t bother watching the live broadcast of the National Day Rally. Go out to the parks. Enjoy the evening. Spend time with family. Read this http://www.newmandala.org/lky-legacy/ The remarks of the PM will be summarized, regurgitated, digested, put on visuals etc – it has already been done I am sure. Just wait for that.

Majulah Singapura.

You gotta love the UNIX way of doing things


A colleague was asking for some help in a demo he was planning on that would involve him editing a spreadsheet in LibreOffice on his laptop and then the spreadsheet to be saved to a remote machine. Once the edit to the spreadsheet was done, that act should then trigger a process in the remote machine. He could do that by manually firing off a process, but would like it to be automated.

Because of his question, I found out that in LibreOffice, there is an option to “Save Remote” which gives me a range of options to work with:

remote-add-service

 

remote-add-service-dialog

I could then just save to a SSH-enabled destination. Pretty cool.

Turned out, for some reason, the LibreOffice version on his machine just did not successfully connect to the ssh destination. It worked out of the box on my Fedora 28 and RHEL 7.5 systems. Hopefully, a bug report will be filed.

So, as an alternative, I suggested that perhaps he should do an sshfs (dnf install fuse-sshfs -y) link to the remote system. This allows for the remote location to be accessible from all apps on the local machine.

The next thing to do was to write a script on the remote end that watches the spreadsheet for changes and to trigger some actions.

This is where the UNIX philosophy of simple, well defined and well written tools come into play. It is also a realization that there are a million ways to make it happen.

In this instance, I picked on entr (dnf install entr -y on Fedora and via EPEL or RPMFusion for RHEL) which does exactly what was needed and all in just one line. I did initially consider inotify but figured entr was simpler for the task at hand.

Here’s a screencast to show two terminals (in Gnome, ctrl-alt-shift-R):

r7: is a RHEL 7.5 system (on the left) and gillman: is a Fedora 28 system (on the right).

The line “ls file.csv | entr -p ./p.sh” is all that is bring done on r7. On gillman, I sshfs mounted r7:/home/harish onto gillman:/home/harish/mnt. When the file file.csv is edited on gillman, the file is saved via the sshfs mount point onto r7 and on r7, the one line command line executes via entr to trigger the shell script “p.sh” which is nothing more than:

r7$ cat p.sh

#!/bin/sh
ping -c 5 127.0.0.1

The screencast is self explanatory.

Enjoy.

The value of independence


As we approach the 53rd National Day on 9th of August 2018, Singaporeans have all reasons to be happy and cheerful. The economy is doing well (enough), we all have a roof over our heads, we have food on the table, sunshine and fresh air.

Yet, something does not seem well in Camelot. In relative terms to other Camelots, we are doing very well. We could be doing even better.

A week ago on Friday 20th July, it was reported that at least 1.5 million medical records of people (I am told that it could be more and that the computer that the infiltration point was used by a non-Singaporean staff – hey, conspiracy stories can be fun sometimes) held by SingHealth was exfiltrated by some alleged state actors. My mom’s data was in the breached cache.

I’ve commented about this issue a few days ago and one of the things not addressed in the post, was the follow up steps, specifically about the convening of a Committee of Inquiry.

On Tuesday, 24 July, it was announced (mci-coi-singhealth in case the link is broken) that there will be a four person COI that will be looking into this breach.

That’s good.

The four man COI comprises former chief district judge and current member of the Public Service Commission Judge Richard Magnus who will chair it, executive chairman of security solutions firm Quann World, Mr Lee Fook Sun, group chief operating officer of Sheares Healthcare (a healthcare technology outfit) Mr Ram T. K. Udairam and, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, Ms Cham Hui Fong. Here’s their respective CVs – as posted on MCI.gov.sg (COI Pressrelease_Annex A if it is not available).

The Terms of Reference  (in case it is not available COI Pressrelease_Annex B):

Screenshot from 2018-07-28 15-15-24

is to the point, fairly comprehensive and does give the COI about five months to complete the job.

All of this looks fine.

Let’s look at the members of the COI.

  1. Judge Magnus, given his extensive legal background, is very well suited for the role as the Chairman of the Committee.
  2. Mr Lee is  the executive chairman of Quann Security. Quann was known as e-Cop and was renamed in 2016. Quann is a Temasek Holdings owned entity (Quann is owned by Certis Cisco, which is in turn owned by Temasek).
  3. Mr Udairam is the COO of Sheares Healthcare Management. Apparently the domain is sheareshealth.com and although it lists some services that are provided, the site is very static and offers no additional information. Sheares Healthcare is a Temasek owned entity.
  4. Ms Cham, is with the NTUC and has been with them for over 25 years. She was also a former NMP.

What should a COI comprise of? This is a COI that is going to look at what happened, how it happened, what mitigating factors, how it can be prevented and then make recommendations to a highly technical problem – I’d like to think it is so.

Points 2, 3, 4 and 5 would require a good understanding, i.e., technical chops, to be able to come to grips to have a good outcome.

Assuming good intent, I think the members of the committee, save for the Chairman, fall very short on the technical credentials (all based on their CVs).

Is it really critical to have that technical skill? Yes. To do well in points 2 – 5, you must have tech creds. Was it impossible for the Ministry of Communication and Information to find someone with technical credentials to be on this committee? The Singapore Computer Society’s Information Security Chapter has plenty of people who can fill that role.

So, given the list of four persons, no one, other than Mr Lee can claim any expertise in anything related to Internet security. I am giving the benefit of doubt to Mr Lee because his involvement with Quann. He could readily seek advise from his organization if needed.

I am sure the COI can, and will, co-opt people to help them. The COI will ultimately be responsible for the report they have to present by year’s end.

I guess I now have to address what I have delayed till now – so thanks for reading thus far.

elephant-in-the-room

There is an Elephant in the Room.

All members (other than the Chairman) are linked 100% with Temasek, which for all their protestations, is a sovereign wealth fund of Singapore and owned by the Minister of Finance. Granted that the NTUC is not under the wide Temasek banyan tree, but close enough around the periphery.

So, how is it that we have a situation where the COI is checking on an issue related to the government or quasi government entity with the COI manned by G-related people? Is this the proverbial “ownself check ownself“?

Again, I am assuming positive intent. I still find that things are not quite right in my Camelot.

My updated GPG keys: 0x61AFA27B


I have just updated my GPG keys.

The fingerprint is: 0x61AFA27B

And my public key is:

-----BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----
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2Y7tRrCa1Zp6hZKTnnJyby69XTPlQFPporIGKvDNu0K0pSzAuNJqGT8aSFvOadbc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=mauj
-----END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----

You can check my keys at any of the key servers. Here are two:

a) https://keys.fedroraproject.org

b) https://pgp.mit.edu

I am updating my keys to 4096 bits and that is the reason for doing it now.

You can also use keybase.io if you prefer – this still has my previous key, and it will be updated to the new one.

SingHealth, PDPA, Smart Nation, sigh!


Looks like I am clear from the data breach at SingHealth. My Mom’s data, however, is not. This is the SMS received:

singhealth-sms-redacted

Yes, I’ve redacted her name, and yes, I use Signal as my SMS application as well as for secure communication.

While it is nice that SingHealth sent out the SMS, notice the bit.ly URL. Why would the words “cyber-attack” be in it? What were they thinking when they picked that one up as a means to inform? Would the people receiving it feel better or feel terrified? Would they NOT have been further alarmed, regardless of the subsequent words in the SMS text? The “bit.ly/cyber-attack18” is redirected to https://www.singhealth.com.sg/AboutSingHealth/CorporateOverview/Newsroom/NewsReleases/2018/Pages/cyberattack.aspx.

So, here are some common sense ways to send information:

a) In the text, say the following:

“$NAME, your name, IC, address, gender, race & birth of date were accessed but not altered. Mobile no. medical & financial info NOT accessed. No action needed. We apologise for anxiety caused. For queries, email check@singhealth.com.sg. Please also check: bit.ly/my-data.”

Notice that I’ve added clarity to the 2nd second sentence because I have no idea what “unaffected” means. Communications and simple language is what we need here.

b) Have a sample of what the SMS would look like at the SingHealth website so as to mitigate scam SMSes which I am told were sent around.

c) In that SingHealth page, it failed to link to the appropriate information from the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and SingCert to help corroborate the information. Citation needed – just follow the simple Wikipedia rule of citing sources.

d) None of the social media sites should be used as the primary and authoritative source of information. Certainly, one can and should use all channels, but never leave out one’s primary site. I have seen this in many organizations who have abdicated their independence and rely on social media sites as the primary source for information and news about their outfits. Use the Internet well please. Decentralized is the Right Thing to do.

Personal Data Protection Act

Well, guess what? Singapore government and agencies are exempt from PDPA exposure. So, the 1.5 million people whose data got exfiltrated have no recourse and SingHealth (and their service provders) won’t be penalized under PDPA.

Update: 24 July 2018: From my post of this blog to LinkedIn, I am told that SingHealth is not a public agency exempt from PDPA.

It is quite disappointing to see how even the SingHealth site highlights “The attackers specifically and repeatedly targeted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal particulars and information on his outpatient dispensed medicines.”.

If I were to take the SingHealth site as having good intentions, they should have emphasized as follows:

“The attackers specifically and repeatedly targeted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal particulars and information on his outpatient dispensed medicines.  But, regardless, every person whose data was exfiltrated is a target, it might not be immediately evident to us.” or something like that. My Mom’s data is just as important as Hsien Loong’s.

Smart Nation

Kudos to Hsien Loong in saying that the Smart Nation project will continue (and if that link is behind a paywall) regardless of this incident, but we must be smart(er) in how we go about doing this project.

I spoke in 2015 at the GovWare event (slides) and it was about going beyond a secure smart nation. As of today, Sunday 22nd July 2018, we have no means to secure this country as it continues (even after a pause) in it’s efforts to become “smart”. Our lynch-pin is our power source. Slide 19 and 22 onwards discuss the energy dependence of these smart nation projects. And yet, we do not have any (yet) viable renewable energy source. Cyber security is very much tied into energy security which is the SPOF.

For our Smart Nation initiatives to be successful in the long term, three factors need to be in place:

  1. Secure by default
  2. Open standards based
  3. Open Source Reference Implementation.

As long as we have systems that run operating systems that are known to be broken and risky (see the 1st word in the 2nd line)

img_20180722_080402
1st word, 2nd line is all you need to know (from Sunday Times 22 Jul 2018)

I particularly like how the media keeps harping that this is a sophisticated attack and that this could only have been done by some state actor. I do find it rather weak.

Let’s look what I think there are multiple angles in this case:

  • The “Lee Hsien Loong” data interest is just that. Since he has a level of prominance, if someone is trying to get to data and sees his information, naturally, they’ll be thinking “hmm, did I get into a mother lode? let’s see what else I can find”. To me, that bit is a red herring.
  • I have to assume that the data sitting in the database was encrypted. I will have to give the benefit of the doubt. If I don’t, then there are even bigger questions.
  • Why are they still running insecure Windows systems? That in itself is a big clue as to why there is a problem and an on-going problem.
  • It appears that SingHealth was aware of a problem on 4th July. I have to assume that they activated their security people and raised the issue with CSA promptly. (Again, I am assuming good intent). It took 16 days for this to be made public on 20 July. Maybe they needed to verify, verify, verify, and I am prepared to give them some slack on it.
  • Are the exfiltrated data useful? Of course it is useful. Names, ages, NRIC numbers, addresses perhaps, and any other information is valuable to someone. I do not accept some statements by the authorities that “these are not commercially important”. Is data valuable only if it is commercially useful?

Screenshot from 2018-07-22 11-45-47 https://www.gov.sg/news/content/channel-newsasia—singhealth-cyberattack-what-you-need-to-know

 

So, there you have it. Day 2 since the revelation. And we are not out of the woods yet.

[Update based on feedback on twitter]

so, if you can’t log in via SingPass and you don’t have a Singapore mobile number, I guess you are out of luck.

About that data breach at SingHealth


PSA Notice

Please go to https://datacheck.singhealth.com.sg/ and click on the log in button to check if your data was exposed by the breach at SingHealth. The login needs your SingPass account and verification.

I was very sure that my data would have been breached but turns out that it was not.

Screenshot from 2018-07-21 10-28-19.png

Yes, I’ve removed the information next to ID:, duh!

ssh tunnel via userspace systemd service


[image above is a screenshot of 0pointer.de – in place of a systemd logo]

This is short how-to on setting up a systemd service that is run from a user account.

In the /etc/systemd/system directory:

a) create a service file that implements the service. In my case, I wanted to set up a service that would be started at boot and run under my userid. This service is to set up a ssh tunnel to a system that is on another, external network.

$ cat /etc/systemd/system/ssh-tunnel.service
[Unit]
Description=ssh tunnel
After=network.target

[Service]
User=harish
Group=harish
Type=simple
WorkingDirectory=/home/harish
ExecStart=/home/harish/sshpipe.sh
Restart=on-failure

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

$

b) This is a service that is to be started after the network.target is reached – obviously, no network, nothing happens. Then the section [Service] has details as to who’s UID it is to be invoked. Included are the User, Group, and WorkingDirectory details. The file that is to be run when this service is started is called sshpipe.sh and that is also indicated.

# ps -ef|grep ssh
root       898   812  0 Jul17 ?        00:00:00 /usr/libexec/sssd/sssd_ssh --uid 0 --gid 0 --logger=files
root      1333     1  0 Jul17 ?        00:00:00 /usr/sbin/sshd -D
harish   30062     1  0 16:30 ?        00:00:00 /bin/sh /home/harish/sshpipe.sh
harish   30063 30062  0 16:30 ?        00:00:00 /usr/bin/ssh -N -R 2048:localhost:22 harish@10.10.10.10

c) As can be seen above, the sshpipe.sh is invoked under my UID and in this case, because I am have set it up as passwordless ssh connection (which you have set up earlier), the command will work seamlessly.

d) The file sshpipe.sh is as follows:

$ cat sshpipe.sh 
#!/bin/sh
/usr/bin/ssh -N -R 2048:localhost:22 harish@10.10.10.10
$

Essentially, the command says that is run (in my case a Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.5 system running in an Intel NUC RYBDWi35) is connecting to port 2048 on the remote host 10.10.10.10 under my UID and linking back up port 22 on this NUC. So, when I log into 10.10.10.10, I can run:

$ ssh -p 2048 localhost

and I am back into the NUC.

e) So, once the systemd service file, in this case, ssh-tunnel.service is created, you will have to enable it and start it.

# systemctl enable ssh-tunnel.service
Created symlink from /etc/systemd/system/multi-user.target.wants/ssh-tunnel.service to /etc/systemd/system/ssh-tunnel.service.
# systemctl start ssh-tunnel.service
# systemctl status ssh-tunnel.service -l
● ssh-tunnel.service - ssh tunnel back
   Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/ssh-tunnel.service; enabled; vendor preset: disabled)
   Active: active (running) since Thu 2018-07-19 19:13:50 +08; 9s ago
 Main PID: 421 (sshpipe.sh)
    Tasks: 2
   CGroup: /system.slice/ssh-tunnel.service
           ├─421 /bin/sh /home/harish/sshpipe.sh
           └─436 /usr/bin/ssh -N -R 2048:localhost:22 harish@10.10.10.10

Jul 19 19:13:50 r7 systemd[1]: Started ssh tunnel.
Jul 19 19:13:50 r7 systemd[1]: Starting ssh tunnel...

That’s about it.

I really do like systemd for the elegance provided.

[Update based on comments on g+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+HarishPillay/posts/527ieimh6Tv%5D

In this instance, since the shell script has exactly one line, it can be placed in the unit file where it refers to the script. The updated file is as follows:

# cat ssh-tunnel.service 
[Unit]
Description=ssh tunnel
After=network.target

[Service]
User=harish
Group=harish
Type=simple
WorkingDirectory=/home/harish
ExecStart=/usr/bin/ssh -N -R 2048:localhost:22 harish@10.10.10.10
Restart=on-failure

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target

[root@r7 system]#

The reason I had the script was because it was something I have been using for a long time – predates systemd and since I wanted to make sure that I could work this tunnel with systemd, I just kept the script.

Thanks to +Christoph Wickert!

So, you want to do computer science, huh?


This has been on my mind for a while. Lots of friends are asking me for advise about their interest in pursuing courses on computer science (undergrad or grad).

First things first: I do have both CS and EE degrees (from Oregon State University), but that was from the 1980s. The world of computer science has evolved significantly since those days. I got to be on APRAnet then and it has evolved into what the Internet today. In that process, lots of the types of knowledge that one needs to do computer science – as an academic program – has also changed – but not evenly across the world.

I do mentor/advise startups and if any of them come to me with proposals that involve buying hardware, setting up software as part of the servers etc, I will promptly throw them out. Create your stuff on the cloud – AWS, Google, Rackspace, DigitalOcean etc. Lots of them out there. At some point, when your project/start-up ideas have gained some form/shape, and you have paying customers, you could consider running your own data centers using Red Hat Open Stack and Red Hat OpenShift  to make sure that you have a means to run your application in-house or in your own data center or onto the public cloud seamlessly.

So, likewise, if anyone is keen on doing a CS degree, do consider the following (not an exhaustive list, but a starting point):

  1. Do look at courses available online (Khan Academy, Coursera, EdX) and understand the breath and depth of what is out there.
  2. Learning online is a big challenge – especially for adults (atleast it is for me). I think I can manage the courses, but having to juggle the course and life when you don’t have a supporting group of classmates, it will be a struggle.
  3. If you are already keen on something – like game development, or artificial intelligence etc, do look out for the sites that are specialised in those fields. I particuarly like fast.ai for AI related stuff because of the use of Jupyter notebooks (which is really the only sane way to do anything with data science).
  4. Make sure you create and manage your own brand via your own blog – wordpress.com (like this blog itself), code repositories (not only code, but including documents, graphics etc) sitting on sites like gitlab.com or pagure.io (or even github.com). Create and curate your thoughts, ideas and considerations on your blog and repositories. I would not recommend LinkedIn as the primary site, but would encouage use of it as a place for links to your personal sites which should always be primary. You must always retain control of your stuff and not be dependent on others.
  5. Explore the various areas of interest that you have and find out who the thought leaders are including the professors. Contact them and seek their advise. Don’t be concerned that they might ignore your – which is just fine – but you never know who will respond and engage and your path will take a different turn.

If there are any other thoughts, do comment below. Love to hear from others on how they would have answered the same question.

 

 

And, they are online now


Over a week ago, I was pinged by @l00g33k on twitter with a picture of a description of a piece of code I wrote in 1982.

That lead to a meet up and reliving a time where the only high technology thing I had was a 6502-based single board computer complete with 2K of RAM. It was a wonderful meet up and @l00g33k  was kind enough to handover to me a bag with 10 copies of the newsletter that was published by the Singapore Ohio Scientific Users Group. That was the very first computer user group I joined.

Suffice to say, I did help contribute to the newsletter by way of code to be run on the Superboard ][ – all in Basic.

I’ve scanned the 10 newsletters and it is now online.

I am really pleased to read in the Vol 1 #3 (page 36) a program to generate a calendar. The code is all in Basic. Feed it a year and out comes the calendar for the whole year.

Another piece of code is in Vol 1 #5 page 36 a program to print out the world map. That code was subsequently improved upon and published by another OSUG member to include actual times of cities – something that could only be done with the addiion of a real time clock circuitry on the Superboard ][.

A third program was in Vol 1 #6 page 26 that implemented a morse code transmitter.

I was very happy then (as I am now) that the code is out there even though none of us whose code was published in the newsletters had any notion of copyright. Code was there to be freely copied and worked on. Yes, a radical idea which in 1984 got codified by Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation (www.fsf.org).

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep**


Lots of what we take for granted found expression in the thoughts and writings of John Perry Barlow. He crafted “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” back in 1996. It held lots of truths that I found critical for all of us, regardless of where we find ourselves.

John passed away on 7 February 2018. I was privileged to have met him in Singapore on 28th March 1995 (update: thanks to Marv for the date) and what an honour it was. Singapore was in the midst of her “IT 2000 Master Plan” crafted by the National Computer Board (the earliest I can find of ncb.gov.sg is from 13 October 1997).

He had spoken at an event at the NCB and we then proceed to have lunch a chinese restaurant at Clementi Woods park. Among the many things we chatted about was about the future and what it means to be connected. Mind you, those were days when we had dial up modems, perhaps 56k baud, but what a thrill it was to hear about his visions.

I was fortunate to have been able to keep in contact with him in the early 2010s via twitter and email and I was very glad that he did remember that trip and that he found some of the things Singapore was doing then to be intriguing but challenging for the future and that digital rights would be something that we need to be fighting for because if the people don’t own it, governments and big corporations will occupy that space.

He was the founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation and on 7th April 2018, the EFF held a “John Perry Barlow Symposium” hosted by the Internet Archive. Do watch the recording to how critical John was to lots of what we take for granted today.

Read his writings at the EFF which is hosting the John Perry Barlow Library.

Thank you John.

* John’s photo by Mohamed Nanabhay from Qatar,  CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66227217

**https://www.quotes.net/quote/4718

Seeking a board seat at OpenSource.org


I’ve stepped up to be considered for a seat on the Board of the Open Source Initiative.

Why would I want to do this? Simple: most of my technology-based career has been made possible because of the existence of FOSS technologies. It goes all the back to graduate school (Oregon State University, 1988) where I was able to work on a technology called TCP/IP which I was able to build for the OS/2 operating system as part of my MSEE thesis. The existence of newsgroups such as comp.os.unix, comp.os.tcpip and many others on usenet gave me a chance to be able to learn, craft and make happen networking code that was globally useable. If I did not have access to the code that was available on the newsgroups I would have been hardpressed to complete my thesis work. The licensing of the code then was uncertain and arbitrary and, thinking back, not much evidence that one could actually repurpose the code for anything one wants to.

My subsequent involvement in many things back in Singapore – the formation of the Linux Users’ Group (Singapore) in 1993 and many others since then, was only doable because source code was available for anyone do as they pleased and to contribute back to.

Suffice to say, when Open Source Initiative was set up twenty years ago in 1998, it was a formed a watershed event as it meant that then Free Software movement now had a accompanying, marketing-grade branding. This branding has helped spread the value and benefits of Free/Libre/Open Source Software for one and all.

Twenty years of OSI has helped spread the virtue of what it means to license code in an manner that enables the recipient, participants and developers in a win-win-win manner. This idea of openly licensing software was the inspiration in the formation of the Creative Commons movement which serves to provide Free Software-like rights, obligations and responsibilities to non-software creations.

I feel that we are now at a very critical time to make sure that there is increased awareness of open source and we need to build and partner with people and groups within Asia and Africa around licensing issues of FOSS. The collective us need to ensure that the up and coming societies and economies stand to gain from the benefits of collaborative creation/adoption/use of FOSS technologies for the betterment of all.

As an individual living in Singapore (and Asia by extension) and being in the technology industry and given that extensive engagement I have with various entities:

I feel that contributing to OSI would be the next logical step for me. I want to push for a wider adoption and use of critical technology for all to benefit from regardless of their economic standing. We have much more compelling things to consider: open algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning etc. These are going to be crucial for societies around the world and open source has to be the foundation that helps build them from an ethical, open and non-discriminatory angle.

With that, I seek your vote for this important role.  Voting ends 16th March 2018.

I’ll be happy to take questions and considerations via twitter or here.

Of open source, security and collaboration


I had the privilege of being a panelist at the inaugural “India Digital Open Summit” held in Mumbai, India on 19th January 2018.

The event was organized by Reliance Jio and held at the Jio Talk Auditorium, Learning & Development Center, Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai. My first visit to that part of Mumbai so it was all good and exciting for me.

This Summit was organized jointly by Reliance Jio, The Linux Foundation and Cisco.

The event first of a four city Linux Foundation open source* series to be held in India this year. I am particularly interested in this specific event because of it being organized and run by a up and coming mobile telco, Reliance Jio.

It is really good, from my perspective, that open source is now the driver for all sectors of the global economy and now all corporate entities who expect to be still around over the next five years, are recognizing and acting on getting this into their organizations. We are long past the salad days of free and open source and we are now benefiting from the struggles of the last 20-30 years.

The panel I was on was chaired by Mr. Rajan Mathews, Director General of COAI.

The entire panel discussion can be viewed here.

I would like to perhaps highlight a two things that I was asked about and give added context.

The first was in terms of security of open source software. The typical comment that I’ve heard over the last two decades is that because the code is open, it therefore is prone to being turned into malicious code. The root of this myth is from statements that were made in the late 1990s and early 2000s by proprietary vendors trying to sow F.U.D amongst the technology buyers who were told that only closed proprietary software is secure because no one else can look at it. It is the classic “trust me <wink> <wink>” statement.

Open source is indeed more that good enough such that even the CIO of New York Stock Exchange Euronext endorses it for the NYSE. Billions are traded daily on the NYSE. If they can reap benefits from open source, so can any other entity.

Never mind that endorsement. Just look at what’s happened in the last few weeks around security – specifically in the CPU (i.e., the actual hardware) that runs almost 100% (or very close to it) of the world’s computing systems, mobile phones etc. The specific issue is about Spectre and Meltdown. Mitigation of this hardware issue is driven by the open source community and Red Hat has taken a lead position in it while working in tight collaboration with the rest of the industry, including proprietary OS vendors. If it weren’t for the open source developers, we won’t have been able to do the mitigation as quickly as we have been (and work still continues nonetheless).

So, I do hope that we have put behind us this uninformed statement that “open source software is not secure”.

The second comment is about a question that I was asked was about how open source code is being taken by corporates and turned into products and that the developers of these are not being compensated. This is an important question and will be asked over and over again.

This is where I am particularly proud to be a Red Hatter because what we do is to be trusted entity between the FOSS community of developers and projects and the enterprises who see tremendous value in the open source projects that become products that enterprises can use.

Red Hat can be likened as a gardener/farmer who tends the garden/farm that has many different crops, plants (projects). We harvest good projects from the farm and turn them into products. In that process, additional work is done in security, features, documentation, certification etc so that we can make the open source product ready for enterprises. These changes/enhancements are fed back into the open source projects. This two way process is what we do to ensure that the ecosystem of open source projects are indeed thriving and growing while we bring sanity and accountability to enterprises who use these project/products. Red Hat is a equal peer player/participant in the projects and that is how one gains trust in the community and also how we then are able to bring accountability to the enterprise.

Overall, I enjoyed my pane and I must thank Rajan for being an excellent moderator.

* open source is the marketing term of Free Software first coined by Christine Peterson back in 1998.

[this post first appeared here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/open-source-security-collaboration-harish-pillay/%5D

Wireless@SGx for Fedora and Linux users


Eight years ago, I wrote about the use of Wireless@SGx being less than optimal.

I must acknowledge that there has been efforts to improve the access (and speeds) to the extent that earlier this week, I was able to use a wireless@sgx hotspot to be on two conference calls using bluejeans.com and zoom.info. It worked very well that for the two hours I was on, there was hardly an issue.

I tweeted about this and kudos must be sent to those who have laboured to make this work well.

The one thing I would want the Wireless@SG people to do is to provide a full(er) set of instructions for access including Linux environments (Android is Linux after all).

I am including a part of my 2010 post here for the configuration aspects (on a Fedora desktop):

The information is trivial. This is all you need to do:

	- Network SSID: Wireless@SGx
	- Security: WPA Enterprise
	- EAP Type: PEAP
	- Sub Type: PEAPv0/MSCHAPv2

and then put in your Wireless@SG username@domain and password. I could not remember my iCell id (I have not used it for a long time) so I created a new one – sgatwireless@icellwireless.net. They needed me to provide my cellphone number to SMS the password. Why do they not provide a web site to retrieve the password?

Now from the info above, you can set this up on a Fedora machine (would be the same for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, SuSE etc) as well as any other modern operating system.

I had to recreate a new ID (it appears that iCell is no longer a provider) and apart from that, everything else is the same.

Thank you for using our tax dollars well, IMDA.

My submission to the proposed changes to the Films Act


[The submission deadline is 5pm Singapore time Saturday December 30, 2017. Image above from http://www.newlovetimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/the-godfather.gif ]

I have sent the following to the IMDA as per their requests for comments for the proposed changes to the Films Act.

 

Public Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Films Act (FA)

To: consultation@imda.gov.sg

Hi. I would like to thank IMDA for inviting comments to the proposed amendments to the Films Act and for extending the deadline to the submissions.

I refer to the following section extracted from section F of Part 1 and included here for completeness – except for the footnotes [0]:

“(F) Enhancements to IMDA’s Investigation and Enforcement Powers

2.30 Today, the Films Act provides IMDA and Police with powers
to enter premises without warrant to search for and seize
unlawful films. However, for other breaches of the Films
Act, such as the distribution or public exhibition of
unclassified films, such powers are vested with the Police
who assist IMDA with enforcement and investigations. Going
forward, the enforcement and investigation for breaches
under the Films Act will be taken on by IMDA, and the Police
will only be called on when necessary. Accordingly, the
Films Act will need to be amended to empower IMDA with the
necessary enforcement and investigation powers to take on
this role.

Proposed Amendments

2.31 MCI/IMDA propose to enhance IMDA’s investigation and
enforcement powers to:

(a) Request any documents and information from any person
to investigate a suspected breach of the Films Act or
licence conditions;
(b) Enter and inspect, without warrant, any premises and
examine any film or advertisement for a film found on
the premises;
(c) Dispose of films, equipment or materials that have
been seized during enforcement and is unclaimed,
forfeited or has to be disposed without returning to
the owner; and
(d) Provide for the composition of offences.”

In general, the various other proposals look useful and are, I think, reasonable.

What concerns me, however, is the change as noted in paragraph 2.30 above.

As it is, there is no need for a warrant to enter a premise as was already in the law [1] (Section 23A(1)(a)(i). I note that it is only in 23A(6) that warrants are sought when 23A(1)(a)(i) fails.)

How the Film Act [2] was written (and passed) that way is something that I’d like to know. I think that it does infringe of one’s rights and I feel is counter to the idea of due process and fair play.

So, given that, I am concerned with the proposed removal of the involvement of Police officers as noted in paragraph 2.30 above.

The consultation document does not provide detailed justifications or reasons for the proposed amendments. It would be very helpful if there were historical information as to what IMDA encountered (or was hindered as a result of) in undertaking the responsibilities as it is defined in the law that now warrants the need to remove Police officers in the list of authorized officers.

I am concerned that the impartial oversight that the Police offers is being diminished by this proposed change. It might very well be that there were indeed no Police officers involved in previous efforts to enforce the Film Act, but that is not evident in this
proposal and seems strange to write them out of it without additional information.

Thank you.

Harish Pillay

[0] https://www.imda.gov.sg/-/media/imda/files/inner/pcdg/consultations/consultation-paper/public-consultation-on-proposed-amendments-to-the-films-act/films-act-public-consultation-4-dec-2017.pdf?la=en
[1] https://www.imda.gov.sg/-/media/imda/files/inner/pcdg/consultations/consultation-paper/public-consultation-on-proposed-amendments-to-the-films-act/annex–draft-films-act-amendment-bill.pdf?la=en
[2] https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/FA1981#pr34-

This is very interesting! (it is proprietary though)


I just came across something called hashgraph that seems to be able to replace blockchains as the basis of distributed ledgers.

The hashgraph is wrtten up by Dr Leemon Baird in this paper: http://leemon.com/papers/2016b.pdf is by the main author Leemon Baird.

He is the founder of a company called Swirlds (www.swirlds.com). Swirlds has implemented the hashgraph algorithm and provides a development environment for people to write applications on top of. It seems that Swirlds has been in stealth mode for the last 5 years or so.

The swirlds technology is, unfortunately, closed source and their demo platform is at:

http://www.swirlds.com/download/

with demo apps (these demo apps are also in the download above):

https://github.com/lbaird/swirlds-demos

Both the SDK and demo codes are jar files. The source code of the demo is in public domain.

One of the key advantages of hashgraph is the number of transactions per seconds that goes into the tens of thousands while being able to maintain consensus with a certainty of 1 and also to be fair.

Hashgraph does not suffer wasteful computational cycles of blocks to arrive at consensus (and hence the power savings).

They don’t have a public block yet (they have a demo of it).

Swirlds has 3 patents (http://www.swirlds.com/ip/).

From their website, their business model is to license their base environment for production.

I feel they are on to something.

More backgroud:
a) https://squawker.org/technology/blockchain-just-became-obsolete-the-future-is-hashgraph/
b) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg-0Dgxc0io (The Future is Not Blockchain, it’s hashgraph)
c) https://youtu.be/ole2WuwNLL4 (The Future Of Consensus | A Panel Discussion With The Hashgraph Team At The Assemblage NYC

You can follow hashgraph on telegram https://t.me/hashgraph

Phenomenal!


It is just amazing to see how the validity of Einstein’s theories have been tested repeatedly and proven to be correct. Einstein did all of what he did in his mind, on the blackboard and on paper. No labs to test his ideas and no real means to verify his theory.

But, over a hundred years later, the scientific community has caught up and are now able to verify gravitational waves from collisions between blackholes and now collisions between neutron stars.

Neutron stars are very different from black holes. Neutron stars are produced from supernova, the explosion of massive stars, and are approximately 1 to 20 times the mass of our sun, but are made up of pure neutrons. The density of the neutron stars are very much greater than the density of atomic nuclei. This results in neutron stars being very compact. They are relatively small, about 25km in diameter (yes, smaller than Singapore).

Yesterday, 16th October 2017, the National Science Foundation held a press conference where they announced the detection of collisions between two neutron stars which is a few hundred million light years away from earth.

This collision generated gravitational waves, but more importantly, electromagnetic radiation in the visible range – i.e., light we can see. This light was detected by a scattering of observatories on earth and in space.

You can watch the entire announcement by following this video:

 

The light that was generated suggests that heavy metals like gold (Au) , silver (Ag) are present which essentially confirms that elements heavier than hydrogen and helium are only possible when there are massive super novae.

Just look around you. If you see a gold chain, a gold plated ornament, it means that that element was created in a star billions of years ago.

That and all of us on Earth are made of star stuff.

It takes time to apologise. I get it. But …


It has taken full NINE days for the CEO of the SMRT to come out and take ownership of the flooding incident of the North South Line that happened on October 7th.

In addition to the leadership of the SMRT, we have the transport minister also apologise for the inconvenience caused and blames people down the line – the Bishan maintenance team was at fault.  In that article, it also says that “that the bonuses of the team at fault would be affected”. How about all of those from those individuals and above right up to the CEO also have a similar bonus freeze (by percentage not quantum)?

Anyone who has done NS would know that if someone in your platoon messes up, everyone is punished. This forces everyone to encourage and nudge all to do well. And since the CEO was a former general, he should be au fait with that shared misery model. Why not do so here?

The CEO says that it is bad culture of the organisation to blame. I can appreciate that. I hope this happened because of the downplaying of engineering as the core competency of the business by the previous management.

So, it would appear that it was complacency and failure to follow procedures that is at fault.

Yes, there has to be thorough investigations and probably that is the reason for the 9 day delay for the leadership to be heard (I am trying to give them the benefit of the doubt).

quote-in-paper

Why was it so difficult for the management to come out and speak shortly after the incident? And update it over the following days?

Let me raise something that would be good to have an answer to (I can’t verify it):Why are there statements being made that the individual who was “disciplined” had actually retired late last year/early this year. I really hope this is not true and is pure speculation, but would be good for the SMRT to put it to rest.

 

Transparency is good. Really.


I got a call from Christopher Tan, the Senior Transport Correspondent of a local MSM earlier this afternoon. Kudos to him in tracking me down (not that it was difficult).

He was doing a follow up to his original report of the flooding of the MRT lines.  It was a good chat and we covered some areas of common interest on this topic.

He sort of agreed with my considerations in my previous post about the dangers of water in the tunnel. It is not a small matter when tunnels are flooded. It is not the same as a power being lost and the passengers having to de-train and walk out of the tunnels. With water in the tunnels, and if the water reaches anywhere near the bottom of the train, that would mean that there is probably a meter of water in the tunnel already. De-training and trying to get out is not something that can be done trivially. Even if you can get out, it is very likely that the entire tunnel is dark and having to find one’s way out will be a treacherous challenge.

We need the SMRT/LTA to come up with some mechanisms to manage this scenario. Be bold and willing to listen to the users of the systems and anyone with ideas on how to solve this. Do the trains need to have floats (like what planes have)? Do trains need to have beaconing systems that get activated when there is water (again, like the lifevests in planes)? Lots of easy solutions. Solutions you don’t want to use, but know that it is there when you need it.

During the chat with Christopher, he mentioned that there are “heads rolling” from the SMRT. And lo and behold, there is indeed at least one.  The individual who is being “replaced” was resposible for maintenance.  He apparently (according to the MSM report) was a witness to the 2011 MRT breakdown inquiry.

So, someone got “disciplined”. I have to assume that there was a transparent (to the extent that SMRT is transparent) process to have done this. I can only speculate. I would expect that this is not a last-man-holding-the-hot-potato situation.

If there is one thing that stands out in this SMRT episode is that I have yet to hear from the CEO himself (nor even the transport minister – not that there has to be a statement from a political office holder though). The silence from the top is quite deafening.

Perhaps I should also bring up another issue that I have posted about back in January 2012 – about the inability to close the blast doors of the tunnels at Newton MRT station. The underground MRT stations are designed to be bomb shelters, for those who don’t know. To be fair, I have no idea if it has been fixed. I wish to be updated on it.

So, imagine if we needed to use the bomb shelters and blast doors on the tracks cannot be closed and there is water in the tunnels. What would we be doing? I hope we get that bit fixed now.

For all of our sakes. For Singapore.

Image above is from HomeTeam News.

Is this a failure of leadership?


Saturday, October 7, saw heavy rainfall and as expected, rain water got into everything. That’s what water does. We know that. And we design for it.

We engineers have figured out how to manage this. We have pump systems, sump pumps and lots of other means to drain out water that flows into places that should not have water in them in the first place, especially those underground carparks, subway lines, basement floors of buildings and so on.

Visit the National Environmental Agency‘s website and you will see the Heavy Rain Warning page – pretty nify animation of the clouds. Unfortunately, it does not provide any historical data, so I can’t really figure out how much rains fell on Saturday.

So, it came as a surprise that the North South Line experienced flooding in the tunnels. (Note: some people refer to MRT lines by their colour and the North South Line to some people is the Red Line. However, I have never actually heard announcements in the train stations about “blah, blah, blah along the <colour> Line”.)

Water in tunnels are not a good thing and it is very dangerous. If you are stuck in a tunnel, you will not be able to move because the trains will have no power (it might have some battery backup), which means that the trains are stationary and the passengers will have to sit tight – most likely in the darkness – and wait for help to arrive.  It is also likely that the airconditioning in the carriages will stop at some point.

What if the water in the tunnel kept on rising? At some point, the trains will let in water and you can only imagine the terror and panic that will set in.

I wonder if this advertisement by smrtmedia.com.sg was foretelling something:

Screenshot from 2017-10-08 23-46-29.png

While I can appreciate that the subway system, especially both the North South and East West lines are the oldest we have (over 30 years old now), there has been, over the years, a lack of investment in maintenance, especially during the time when the CEO was someone from the retail industry. The CEO of the SMRT is seen to be a oh-anyone-can-run-this type of a post, including military generals (it might be unfair to say this, but the general sentiment of Singaporeans is that these organizations (SMRT, LTA, PUB, ST companies etc) are seen as “retirement” opportunities for SAF scholars/generals).

During the time of the retail CEO’s tenure, the SMRT focused on building up retail spaces in and around the train stations. SMRT was, after all, a publicly traded company and needed to show revenue. This focus on revenue generation via real estate business ventures, lead to the slow and steady decimation of the engineering ranks. These were the engineers who were there at the start of the SMRT and knew the system well. Speculation has it that they were not promoted, were sidelined, and seen as cost centres (please correct me if this speculation is indeed speculation).

The core business of the train operator is to operate the trains. To ensure that the systems work, people are ferried to and fro as designed and also to keep the service levels high which includes a cadence of safety, maintenance, repair, replacement and renewal.

While it cannot be said that the SMRT failed on all counts, if we are to look at each one in turn, the scores would vary significantly. The trains have been maintained well. I have never been in a train that was dirty, without airconditioning, broken lights, damaged seats etc. The train stations are also well maintained befitting a good system.

What, we as customers of the service don’t see is how the supporting system is being maintained. This came to a head in 2011 with significant breakdowns which eventually lead to the resignation/dismissal (pick one) of the retail CEO. SMRT has not recovered properly yet. it has been six years now and the latest fumble is flooding of the tunnels.

Here’s an iconic picture of the SMRT train with water in the tunnel along with a team from the Singapore Civil Defence Force setting up pumps and hoses to drain the tunnel:

(photos from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/nsl-disruption-water-collecting-in-tunnels-was-due-to-malfunction-in-water)

The fact that the SCDF had to be mobilised to help, speaks to the severity of the situation. This scenario was something the SMRT team could not handle on their own (or even with contractors). Perhaps the SMRT scenario planning did include this contingency (giving them the benefit of the doubt).

I am proud that the SCDF successfully did what they could.

There will be lots of things that need to be done to make sure this does not repeat:

  1. Why did the pumps fail? Friends who are railway engineers/designers tell me that the subway system has multiple levels of back up systems for most everything – signalling, brakes, lights, etc. As of 1030 pm Sunday 8th October, I am told that even the backup pumps failed which then resulted in the flooding. When backup systems fail, that tells me that the maintenance rigour has been compromised. Could shortcuts have been taken?
  2. Looking at the photo above with the train and the water, there are many bigger issues that need to be looked at:
    1. Rusting of rails and supporting infrastructure
    2. Damage to train undercarriage
    3. Structural considerations of the tunnel given that water in large quantities have ingressed it
    4. Electrical power and all of signalling and communications systems.
  3. What is the rescue plan in the event that the floods in the tunnel is rising and there are people still in the carriages?
  4. We are building a “Smart Nation”. Put an “a” in the SMRT to make it SMaRT.

In February this year, a question was posed about the SMRT’s preparedness for flooding and it was carried by one of the local MSM publications. The question was about flash floods in the underground stations, and the answer offered was that the entrances to the underground stations are raised so rain water cannot flow in. It is a pity that the bigger question about water in the tunnels was not posed and hence not explored. I am sure that there will be, over the next few days and weeks, lots of ink spent on exactly that.

The issue of subways being flooded is not new. Here’s an article from ScienceX.com‘s phys.org site about the flooding of New York’s subways following the 2012 Hurricane Sandy flooding and also of Taipei’s and London’s subways. There are no easy ways to prevent flooding ever happening especially if the water coming in completely overwhelms the systems designed to mitigate them. It should not be because the systems failed when called upon to work. Could it be that this SMRT failure episode was a combination of power failure of the pumps and poor maintenance?

I do hope that whatever the outcome, the person down the pecking order is not the one to be the scapegoat.

I am reminded of this speech by a former president of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam about handling failure (do watch the video). He was the Project and Mission Director of the Satellite Launch Vehicle in 1979 and he was fully responsible for the launch of the spacecraft. His decision to go for launch even after the computer systems flagged for a no launch, and the subsequent failure of the spacecraft upon launch was his failure. But in spite of this burden, the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation took the failure onto the Chairman’s shoulder and the Chairman was answerable for the multi million dollar loss. He gave air cover to Dr Kalam so that the engineers and builders of the ISRO can get back to the task at hand and try again. When they re-did the launch successfully a year later, the Chairman asked Dr Kalam to go and take the limelight. Failure was handled by the Chairman, success was given to the Director to assume. That’s leadership.

Is there an equivalent quality of leadership at the SMRT? For the sake of Singapore, I sincerely hope so.

The ongoing spinning


As the presidential elections nomination day nears, the rhetoric and spinning by the PAP ministers and the compliant media, is going up notch by notch.

The constitution provides for the presidential election day to be held within certain parameters. Section 17A 2(b) says the following:

Election of President

17A.

—(1)  The President is to be elected by the citizens of Singapore in accordance with any law made by the Legislature.

(2)  Any poll for the election of President must be held as follows:

(a) in the case where the office of President becomes vacant prior to the expiration of the term of office of the incumbent and a writ for the election has not been issued before such vacation of office or, if so issued, has already been countermanded — within 6 months after the date the office of President becomes vacant; or
(b) in any other case — not more than 3 months before the date of expiration of the term of office of the incumbent.

This was brought up by Prof Kevin Tan that not holding the elections within the last quarter of the sitting president’s term would be running foul of the constitution.

Kevin, who has questioned, rightfully,  the legitimacy of the racial requirement, was rebuffed about the actual date of the elections being held after the end of the term of the sitting president.

The pooh-pooh was by one “minister” as reported in a MSM today, 9th September 2017:

keechiu

This “minister”‘s reasoning is incredibly shallow and very self serving on many points.

He is disingenuous to say that by electing a successor before the end of term, the incumbent is a lame duck. How naive does this minister think Singaporeans are? If it was going to be “pre-maturely turfing out”, why is it in the constitution? Is this “minister” a constitutional expert?

The president is in no position to do anything to begin with. He is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisors who in turn are accountable to the Parliament. If there is anyone in a straight jacket by virtue of the office, the office of the president is one such place.

I would be much happier if these PAP minions came out and told the truth about the whole sham of a racially defined presidential election (or as the PM spins as a “hiatus-triggered model“). They just did not want Dr Tan Cheng Bock to stand for election because he would have done what President Ong Teng Cheong raised but was prevented and the successors did not attempt, to get down to the truth of the reserves and all things associated with it.

It is getting even more stupid with former PM, Goh Chok Tong, saying that:

… this year is “quite unpopular with a large proportion of the population because it goes against the principle of meritocracy”.

So, if it is indeed unpopular and it is going against the principle of meritocracy, why do it?

He reasons in the same speech:

“We have succeeded because we started very early from day one. Everybody is equal and yet you know their differences. We try and make them equal in result when we can – on a fair and just principle basis,” Mr Goh said in response to a question about how Singapore has been able to manage race relations.

How about we say that the PM post should go to a non-Chinese Singaporean? Why is that not being said?

We all know that DPM Tharman is genuinely liked by everyone – including those of us who won’t vote PAP. Why isn’t Chok Tong and the rest of the PAP cabinet expressing the need for a non-Chinese Singaporean as the next PM?

Once you open up the pandora’s box on race based politics, it is hard to close it.

If anything, this presidential election will be the turning point to a Singaporean Singapore. I feel it in my gut.

Let’s call the bluff on this election.

 

No, Halimah, You Are Mistaken


I just saw this article online on one of the MSM sites. In it, the former speaker of parliament, Mdm Halimah Yacob is being interviewed as a potential candidate for this year’s presidential elections.

Let me comment on the article, paragraph by paragraph.

That Singapore will soon have a Malay president after 47 years is, for presidential candidate Halimah Yacob, an affirmation of two core values Singaporeans hold dear: multiracialism and meritocracy.

Singaporeans hold dear four core values. Multiracialism, meritocracy, transparency and fair play. Each of these key values fail this time around.

“Reserving” the election for one particular aspect “race” does not qualify as being multiracial. It is also not fair play.

Meritocracy can only be seen if all the candidates are assessed equally. Halimah “qualifies” because the presidential elections act says that by virtue of she being a speaker of parliament, automatically qualifying her. The two others who’ve indicated interest in running have a significantly higher bar to meet – the fiduciary experience. The role of the elected president is to be a person who has some fiduciary experience because the president is supposed to be the “second key” to the reserves. From all reckoning, the two other candidates have run businesses including recovering from failure and would, therefore, be more savvy financially. I would dearly want to know how, by being a speaker of parliament, that specific characteristic is met and how Halimah would be able to do the needed fiduciary duties? The law waives that requirement solely because of the role played. That is not meritocracy.

“It shows we don’t only talk about multiracialism, but we talk about it in the context of meritocracy or opportunities for everyone, and we actually practise it,” she told The Straits Times in an interview yesterday.

Elaborating, she said it demonstrates Singaporeans can “accept anyone of any colour, any creed, any religion, at any position in our society, so long as they feel that the person can contribute”.

I have to assume that what is quoted above is verbatim. If that is the case, why do we need the “Group Representation Constituency” system? We all know that the GRC was a PAP gerrymandering scheme to make it difficult for the opposition to succeed under the pretext of “minority” representation. Halimah herself is in parliament because she was brought in under the same gerrymandered system.

Her resignation from her posts as Speaker of Parliament, MP and member of the People’s Action Party on Monday to contest the upcoming election has seen views opposed to changes to the presidency resurface, with some questioning the commitment to meritocracy.

Madam Halimah firmly refutes the view that the election, which will be reserved for Malay candidates, entails a trade-off between multiracialism and meritocracy.

It, in fact, ensures both founding ideals are preserved – giving fair access for all races to be represented at one time or other, in the highest office of the land, while requiring that each and every candidate meets the same stipulated criteria.

If she truly believes what she is saying above to be true, I look forward to DPM Tharman Shamugaratnam as the 4th Prime Minister. He exceeds in capability, charisma and character (and international stature) compared to the current incumbent, the other DPM and all the so-called “4th generation” cookie cutter (aka paper general), nondescript PM-wannabes combined.

“All candidates have to qualify,” she said, noting the Constitutional Commission reviewing the elected presidency last year had made clear its stand on this issue.

“If we weaken eligibility criteria for those taking part in a reserved election, yes, then we are compromising meritocracy for representation. We are not – the same criteria apply to everybody,” she stressed.

I assume she said that with a straight face. The eligibility criteria was weakened by putting up the nonsense of “race” where there was none to begin with.

The commission had proposed reserving an election for candidates from a race if it had not been represented in the presidency for five terms. It also updated eligibility criteria for private sector candidates, who must have led a company with at least $500 million in shareholder equity. The changes were passed by Parliament last November.

Of course it was passed by the rubber stamp parliament. No one expected anything else. The commission did propose some alternatives such as going back to the old way where parliament appoints someone to be the president, but the PAP bulldozed their view and so we have this sad state of affairs.

Madam Halimah, 62, has been described by observers as the front runner. They note she is the only aspirant who automatically qualifies to stand, having held the post of Parliament Speaker since 2013.

Who are these anonymous “observers”? PAP cadres? I don’t think anyone would say she is a front runner. I concede, she could possibly be a front runner in a one runner race.

Two other candidates who have indicated their interest to run, Bourbon Offshore Asia Pacific chairman Farid Khan, 62, and Second Chance Properties chief executive Salleh Marican, 67, do not automatically meet the financial threshold.

They have to convince the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) they have the experience and ability to effectively carry out the functions of the office if elected.

And, bingo, there you go. The other two potential candidates apparently don’t meet the fiduciary threshold (actually, how does this MSM reporter know?) and they have to do a song and a dance to be eligible while Halimah gets the golden ticket, no questions asked. And I have a gut feeling that Farid and Salleh might be disqualified for that critical fiduciary requirement for which Halimah is exempt. How convenient.

Asked about the prospect of a contested election in the interview at NTUC Centre, Madam Halimah said she will leave it to the PEC to decide, adding: “We always go into a contest preparing for a contest.”

A fair contest is always welcome. In this case, it is still not clear that the contest will be fair. The contest has been rigged, first by putting the “race” statement, and second by having different fiduciary criteria for qualification.

As for talk of a reserved election being akin to affirmative action, she said the comparison is wrong because affirmative action means “you don’t qualify, but you go in”.

Affirmative action is usually never about “you don’t qualify, but you go in” in all cases. It varies from country to country how it is to be interpreted. In Singapore, the PAP-driven GRC system is an affirmative action model, using the excuse that “Singaporeans are not race blind yet”. The PAP feels that in order to get minorities into parliament, we need to affirmative action via the GRC system.

While some have questioned the seemingly higher bar for private sector candidates, she said the approach that automatically qualifies public sector candidates “has been in place since 1991”.

“It is an open, transparent system,” she added.

The lower fiduciary requirement for public officials have indeed been on the books, but that does not make it right. I think Halimah is very wrong to equate “has been in place since 1991” with the need to be open and transparent. The public sector qualifications were placed there to make it easy for PAP ministers to run for president (which has indeed been the case with Ong Teng Cheong and Tony Tan – autoqualification because they were ministers).

Asked if her track record of 40 years in public service – 33 of them in the labour movement – would be a key plank of her campaign, Madam Halimah laughed and said more details will be revealed soon.

“Yes, having been in public service for a significant period, that has exposed me to the policymaking process, that has stood me in good stead, to understand how the Government functions.

“So that has been extremely useful, relevant, to what I am seeking to do,” she added.

There is a misconception here – there is no “key plank” of her campaign. The elected president is a figure head (as head of state) and a custodian of the reserves. There is nothing else the president can do from a public policy perspective. The president’s office is constrained by the parliament. Presidential candidates can say all that they want, but they would not be in a position to execute it because of their inherent lack of authority. I hope this is made clear and evident to all.

I have a lot of respect for her. I would vote for her if she was standing in an election on her own merit and proven competency. She does not need the crutches that are being placed in her candidacy. As it stands now, I cannot vote for her.

The Dr Tan Cheng Bock Factor

We have yet an unresolved issue. Dr Tan Cheng Bock appeal against this travesty of the “racial” restriction is still pending in the verdict. I fail to see why there has to be a delay in this, it is a simple issue to decide. We cannot have the decision after the elections. We need that to be made public immediately.

I would like to think that we are not living in a bogus democracy. I really do.

What if no one came?


So, there was this shop that was set up to give a chance for those who like pancakes to go there and claim their pancakes. People found out that anyone can go to the shop to buy the pancake, but the only ones who can actually make the pancake are allowed to eat it.

Now people are wondering what is the value in being able to buy the pancake and not eat it unless you can also make the pancake? Turns out, almost anyone can make the pancake, but you have to prove that you have the ability to do so.

I suspect that very soon, the shop will close as those who have a clue and have pride will decide to skip the shop.

Three must haves in Fedora 26


I’ve been using Fedora ever since it came out back in 2003. The developers of Fedora and the greater community of contributors have been doing a amazing job in incorporating features and functionality that subsequently has found its way into the downstream Red Hat Enterprise Linux distributions.

There are lots to cheer Fedora for. GNOME, NetworkManager, systemd and SELinux just to name a few.

Of all the cool stuff, I particularly like to call out three must haves.

a) Pomodoro – A GNOME extension that I use to ensure that I get the right amount of time breaks from the keyboard. I think it is a simple enough application that it has to be a must-have for all. Yes, it can be annoying that Pomodoro might prompt you to stop when you are in the middle of something, but you have the option to delay it until you are done. I think this type of help goes a long way in managing the well-being of all of us who are at our keyboards for hours.

b) Show IP: I really like this GNOME extension for it does give me at a glance any of a long list of IPs that my system might have. This screenshot shows ten different network end points and the IP number at the top is that of the Public IP of the laptop. While I can certainly use the command “ifconfig”, while I am on the desktop, it is nice to have it needed info tight on the screen.

 

 

c) usbguard: My current laptop has three USB ports and one SD card reader. When it is docked, the docking station has a bunch more of USB ports. The challenge with USB ports is that they are generally completely open ports that one can essentially insert any USB device and expect the system to act on it. While that is a convenience, the possibility of abuse isincreasing given rogue USB devices such as USB Killer, it is probably a better idea to deny, by default, all USB devices that are plugged into the machine. Fortunately, since 2007, the Linux kernel has had the ability to authorise USB devices on a device by device basis and the tool, usbguard, allows you to do it via the command line or via a GUI – usbguard-applet-qt. All in, I think this is another must-have for all users. It should be set up with default deny and the UI should be installed by default as well. I hope Fedora 27 onwards would be doing that.

So, thank you Fedora developers and contributors.

 

 

The next president and Singapore at 200


So, we are now in the silly cycle of “electing” the next president.

This year’s election is very controversial. The parliament approved a change in the rules for election of president and added a clause on racial lines after going through a constitutional panel to determine some significant changes.

The panel did recommend reverting to the appointment of a president by the parliament instead of an election process but the government has not accepted that suggestion.

And the biggest change in who can run for president is about the race of the person. I frankly think it is stupid to have race as a criteria (remember the pledge “regardless of race, language or religion”?) but this current government has deemed it appropriate.

The proposal was challenged in court by Dr Tan Cheng Bock, which the court decided to not approve. He has filed an appeal and we are all waiting to see what happens. I have a strong feeling that the appeal will also be dismissed.

So, we will see a racially-based presidential election this year.

From what has been discerned from many sources, there are apparently three potential candidates. One of them is the current Speaker of Parliament, Mdm Halimah Yacob. She is a sitting MP from the PAP. Another potential candidate is Mr Farid Khan Kaim Khan and a third potential candidate is Mr Salleh Marican.

Let’s look at these three potential candidates. The two men are businessmen and aapprently have the needed financial management experience which is touted as being a key requirement for the presidency. They are also  entrepreneurial and, I would guess, street smart.

The third potential candidate is a lawyer by training and has been in politics since 2001. I am quite sure, until proven wrong, that she is not an entrepreneur or a business person. It is also unlikely that she has managed the kinds of monies that the President is expected to “oversee” – although the criteria for president has been “gamed” to say that any minister, speaker of parliament etc fulfils that requirement.

Given what we know, let’s consider the following:

a) Halimah actually decides to run. She will have to resign from the PAP, resign from her appointment as Speaker of Parliament and also stand down from being an MP. All of these mean that she will be out of a job. All of these things have to be done before she can run for president. She cannot be a party member, hold a seat in parliament and also hold an appointment in the legislature. Or at least, I think so.

b) The two others can technically continue with their businesses even as they file their papers to run for president. If they do succeed, I would think they would relinquish their roles in the businesses they have and take on the President’s office fulltime.

c) The election happens with these three potential candidates. One of the two men win.

d) Halimah is out of a job (perhaps she is OK with it), the other non-winning candidate can continue with whatever he was doing.

All in, the risk for Halimah is much higher considering that this could be a three-way fight. The last time, the current elected president got the job on a very, very tiny margin 0.35. That tiny victory over the overwhelming favourite, Dr Tan Cheng Bock is attributable to the vote diversion by Mr Tan Kin Lian who got the lowest votes in 2011.

I think the entire elected president system is a waste of resources and opportunity. The stated reason for the elected president is for a “second key” to the reserves that a government wants to dip into. Going by previous “elected” presidents, there has not been any requests that were denied (please provide links if there were denied requests). So, it seems moot from that point of view. The current president has less that 36% support from the electorate, but given the fact that we don’t have a two stage election process unlike other countries, we are stuck with a chap in office who the majority did not vote for.

Whoever wins the next election would, I think, be in the same boat.

Let’s say that the Dr Tan Cheng Bock appeal is denied and the election proceeds as planned. Would it not be the case that whoever becomes president is in office because the system was gamed in their favour, based on race? Would they feel that the did win this fairly if the contest was open to all as it has always been? Would they be able to say with confidence that if it was not for the rigging of the system, they would not have a) participated b) won? Where is the dignity in that?

It is a sham, plain and simple. We are 52 years into the independance of Singapore (if you count from 1965 and 54 if you count from 1963). We cannot have a fair, no scam, no BS presidential election? Really?

And as a note and remider, 2019 will be the 200th anniversary of the Founding of Modern Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles. Whether that was a good thing back then – perhaps there were questionable practises etc – it is what we have. Would we be as enthusiastic for the 200th anniversary of the Founding of Modern Singapore as it has been with the independance since 1965(63)?

Majulah Singapura!

 

 

Some updates on “who’s my MP”


I have not received any reply from the person who is supposed to be the MP for my place on what I sent to the person on 8th July. I am not expecting a reply, but I will let a few more days pass before sending a reminder.

I had also sent a email to the Parliament on 8th July as well, about the “who’s my MP” option on the parliament website, because of some challenges I faced with the URL.

Here’s what I sent:

Screenshot from 2017-07-18 23-53-38

And here’s their reply:

Screenshot from 2017-07-18 23-51-40

And my reply to that on 13th July 2017:

[addressee] –

>    Thank you for the email and feedback dated on 8 July 2017.
>
> 2  The “Who’s My MP” search engine has been designed to let web-users key
>  in a residential address or a postal code and speedily locate the constituency
> (out of 29 constituencies, either GRC or SMC) which the keyed-in address or postal
> code fall within. For assignment of MPs to specific divisions/wards within each
> constituency, and re-assignments if any, Parl advises on
> our website for web-users to visit the People’s Association (PA) website at
> www.pa.gov.sg for a complete listing of the Community Centres/Clubs in order to
> obtain information on the MP in a specific division/ward.
>
> 3  We receive and review Parliament website users’ feedback continuously,
> and will carefully consider feedback in periodic revisions of Parliament
> website functions.

Thanks for the reply. Why would it be necessary for one to go to *another* site to see which constituency that person is in within a GRC? This has to be made as easy as possible *without* going from one government website to another for this very simple information. For sure, the PA site could have that info, but it is ultimately the Parliament that should be the custodian of the information – the single source of truth as it were.
If however, the Parliament thinks that it should not bother with these things, the least it should do is to have a pointer in the page that I went to initially to find out who the MP is of my location – which is exactly what the parliament URL says – and offer the PA link.

I should *not* have to ask the Parliament website for additional information especially when the URL specifically offers to tell me what I was there for.

Would love to hear back from you soon.

Thanks.

No I have not heard from them yet.

On being an engaged and responsible citizen


I sent this to my MP on July 5 and am awaiting a reply (if there is a reply, I will post it here as well but leaving out the identity of the MP if the MP requests for it):

“Hi. I am a resident in your constituency and I thought it would be appropriate and relevant to pose a few questions to you about the issues around Oxley Road and the feuding Lee siblings.

I would like to know what your stand is on this? I don’t think I heard nor read anything from you in parliament carried in the local media – I have to wait for the Hansard to see what actually transpired.

A few things I’d like to hear from you in the meantime:
a) Why was the proceedings not webcast live? It was blogged live (yahoo.com had the best one) but that is akin to listening to a football commentary on radio vs watching it on tv. if this was an important matter – and the PM apparently thought it was so – why were Singaporeans not provided with a live broadcast? We are after all supposed to be a “Smart Nation” – or are we only a Smart Nation sometimes?
b) Since the PM and his predecessors have said that if a minister is accused of abuse of power, and if the minister does not sue, s/he has to resign. The PM in not suing his siblings makes this matter look very ugly across the board. There are double standards. We are well aware of “the blood is thicker” argument, but if the PM thought it so important to bring the full weight of the parliament to discuss this without the two private citizens present, I think he is not being a true statesman. He should step aside and sort out his family issues.
c) Do you think a COI should be convened? If not, why? And I would like to hear something other than what the PM has said.”

If you think that you want to hear from your MP as well, do take the contents above verbatim – the contents are on a CC0 license anyway – and sent it off to your MP as well. Or just use it as an example and put your questions in your own words. If you need to get the email ID of your MP, do go to https://sgdi.gov.sg. or better yet, via the Parliament website – https://www.parliament.gov.sg/whos-my-mp

Thank you, Uncle Sar, and Rest In Peace!


I’ve always known him as Uncle Sar. He was a teacher, a biology teacher no less. When he used to visit us at home when I was 7 or 8 years old, he would always give my sister and I 10 cents The 10 cents was meant for us to go get a jotter book.

The books would have blank pages into which my sister and I were supposed to draw things in. Exactly what was to be drawn, I don’t think he specified, but it was to be used for something.

When I knew that he was going to visit us, I remember being extra industrious in trying to finish up the pages in jotter book that got the last visit. Many times, I would have missed a few pages or just scribbled something on a page just to make sure that the book has no more empty pages left.

He was always accommodating and smiling and would be ever too keen to check our “work” in the jotter book.

I recall one visit when for some reason he did not give us the usual 10 cents. I remember sneaking up on him, and putting my hand into his shirt pocket to get the 10 cent coin. He would act as if nothing is happening and let me be the crook. Thank you, Uncle Sar.

There are many other memories of you driving us around in your Austin, car license plate ST 287 (not the one in the photo) and how excited I was to go on those rides.

Years later, when I was doing biology for my “A” levels, I was struggling with it and he was kind enough to give me materials that eventually did help me pass it – which was more than what my own teacher ever did. Uncle Sar taught at Pasir Panjang Secondary School then.

We did not quite keep up our contacts over the years, but I do know that every time I saw him at an event, my heart would beat with a happy beat. You had a smile and laughter. Perhaps it brought me back to simpler days, days of childhood.

There was a meeting where you came up to me and congratulated me for being outspoken and fair about things around Singapore politics. You said that, “yes, Hari, I keep a look out for you.” Thank you!

I am glad I took a selfie with you in December 2016 at some event. Unfortunately, I did not hold the camera steadily enough, but here you are.

So it is with a very heavy heart that I bid you farewell. You’ve lived 85 wonderful years. Thank you, Uncle Sar.

A better model to work with citizens


I have been putting off installing the SGSecure application on my phone.

I finally decided to do it via the Google Playstore. It got downloaded and installed and when I started the app, it needed me to agree to the Terms of Use:

Screenshot_20170407-084036

I know most people would just hit the “I agree” button, but not me.

I hit the “Terms of Use” link and it then brought me to Ts&Cs page.

Screenshot_20170407-083728

As an open source advocate, I am very disappointed that a tax-dollars funded application is kept proprietary. I am OK for the contents the app works with as “proprietary”, but at the very least, I expect that the application code be placed on an open source license like the GNU General Public License. Why? So that we can all work to make it even better. The government is not the best in building applications and as has been demonstrated over the last few years, working with the free and open source community helps build a significantly better application no matter who you are.

Continuing the Ts&Cs:

Screenshot_20170407-083746

Screenshot_20170407-083805

I have a problem with 4 (b) above. Why would the app need access to messaging services? Shouldn’t the app be able to send information to the relevant recipients directly?

Screenshot_20170407-083932

What’s with 4 (e) where it says that PII may be shared with non-Government services? It is easy to say “to serve you better”. I would want to know who the non-G service providers are and how they manage these PII.

Screenshot_20170407-084001

The link at the bottom of the screenshot above, brings me to https://e3res.sgsecure.sg/misc/tnc_v1.html – a substantially similar one as the one included in the app.

I decided to uninstall it.  And I tweeted about my hesitation in accepting this app. Hopefully someone is listening and I am more than willing to discuss.

Quarter Century of Innovation – aka Happy Birthday Linux!


Screenshot from 2016-08-25 14-35-23

Happy Birthday, Linux! Thank you Linus for that post (and code) from a quarter of a century ago.

I distinctly remember coming across the post above on comp.os.minix while I was trying to figure out something called 386BSD. I was following the 386BSD development by Lynne Jolitz and William Jolitz back when I was in graduate school in OSU. I am not sure where I first heard about 386BSD, but it could have been in some newsgroup or the BYTE magazine (unfortunately I can’t find any references). Suffice to say, the work of 386BSD was subsequently documented by the Dr. Dobb’s Journal from around the 1992. Fortunately, the good people at Dr. Dobb’s Journal have placed their entire contents on the Internet and the first post of the port of 386BSD is now online.

I was back in Singapore by then and was working at CSA Research doing work in building networking functionality for a software engineering project. The development team had access to a SCO Unix machine but because we did not buy “client access licenses” (I think that was what it was called), we could only have exactly 2 users – one on the console via X-Windows and the other via telnet. I was not going to suggest to the management to get the additional access rights (I was told it would cost S$1,500!!) and instead, tried to find out why it was that the 3rd and subsequent login requests were being rejected.

That’s when I discovered that SCO Unix was doing some form of access locking that was part of the login process used by the built-in telnet daemon. I figured that if I can replace the telnet daemon with one that does not do the check, I can get as many people telnetting into the system and using it.

To create a new telnet daemon, I needed the source code and then to compile it. SCO Unix never provided any source code. I managed, however, to get the source code to a telnet daemon (from I think ftp.stanford.edu although I could be wrong).

Remember that during those days, there was no Internet access in Singapore – no TCP/IP access anyway. And the only way to the Internet was via UUCP (and Bitnet at the universities). I used ftpmail@decwrl.com (an ftp via email service by Digital Equipment Corporation) to go out and pull in the code and send it to me via email in 64k uuencoded chunks. Slow, but hey, it worked and it worked well.

Once I got the code, the next challenge was to compile it. We did have the C compiler but for some reason, we did not have the needed crypto library to compile against. That was when I came across the incredible stupidity of labeling cryptography as a munition by the US Department of Commerce. Because of that, we, in Singapore, could not get to the crypto library.

After some checking around, I got to someone who happened to have a full blown SCO Unix system and had the crypto library in their system. I requested that they compile a telnet daemon without the crypto library enabled and to then send me the compiled binary.

After some to and fro via email, I finally received the compiled telnet daemon without the crypto linked in and replaced the telnetd on my SCO Unix machine. Viola, everyone else in the office LAN could telnet in. The multi-user SCO machine was now really multi-user.

That experience was what pushed me to explore what would I need to do to make sure that both crypto code and needed libraries are available to anyone, anywhere. The fact that 386BSD was a US-originated project meant that tying my kite to them would eventually discriminate against me in not being able to get to the best of cryptography and in turn, security and privacy. That was when Linus’ work on Linux became interesting for me.

The fact that this was done outside the US meant that it was not crippled by politics and other shortsighted rules and that if it worked well enough, it could be an interesting operating system.

I am glad that I did make that choice.

The very first Linux distribution I got was from Soft Landing Systems (SLS in short) which I had to get via the amazingly trusty ftpmail@decwrl.com service which happily replied with dozens of 64K uuencoded emails.

What a thrill it was when I started getting serialized uuencoded emails with the goodies in them. I don’t think I have any of the 5.25″ on to which I had to put the uudecoded contents. I do remember selling complete sets of SLS diskettes (all 5.25″ ones) for $10 per box (in addition to the cost of the diskettes). I must have sold it to 10-15 people. Yes, I made money from free software, but it was for the labour and “expertise”.

Fast forward twenty five years to 2016, I have so many systems running Linux (TV, wireless access points, handphones, laptops, set-top boxes etc etc etc) that if I were asked to point to ONE thing that made and is still making a huge difference to all of us, I will point to Linux.

The impact of Linux on society cannot be accurately quantified.  It is hard. Linux is like water. It is everywhere and that is the beauty of it. In choosing the GPLv2 license for Linux, Linus released a huge amount of value for all of humanity. He paid forward.

It is hard to predict what the next 25 years will mean and how Linux will impact us all, but if the first 25 years is a hint, it cannot but be spectacular. What an amazing time to be alive.

Happy birthday Linux. You’ve defined how we should be using and adoption technology. You’ve disrupted and continue to disrupt, industries all over the place. You’ve helped define what it means to share ideas openly and freely. You’ve shown what happens when we collaborate and work together. Free and Open Source is a win-win for all and Linux is the Gold Standard of that.

Linux (and Linus) You done well and thank you!

Joseph Schooling should not be the last


It was a supreme delight to have been able to sing Majulah Singapura (the video cannot be viewed because the IOC mafia thinks they own the copyright) with Joseph Schooling after being medaled at the Olympics for winning the gold for his 100m butterfly event.

There are plenty of analysis of what had happened over the last eight years that saw him leave Singapore at 14, go to the US, attend a school that has great sporting traditions (and coaches) and the to UT Austin – and benefiting from world class coaches.

Ultimately, if Joseph did not want ths medal, no amount of training, coaching, sacrifice of his parents would have gotten him to where he is today. He wanted it badly. He set his mind to it and made it happen.

But, despite his single minded persistence, his ambition would have been thwarted because of some of the structural blockages we have in Singapore for sportsmen to excel.

If Joseph is not to be last one to achieve that pinnacle of sporting achievement, we have to address a few things:

a) The secondary school system of sports is rather dismal. Back when I was in school, when you got into secondary one, you could go try out what ever sports the school had. The assumption (right one I would say), is that there are never enough opportunities to try things when you are in primary school, let alone become “good” in it. Today, however, secondary schools only ALLOW students who have proven previously to be able to play some sport before they can have that as their ECA. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. I am sure that there are some schools that keep the net wide and open to get all comers to experiment and try. Without that mindset, we will continue to fail in creating champion sportmen/women.

b) Lots of the national sports associations are helmed by well meaning and forward looking people who were themselves sportsmen. But, there are quite a few that have vested interests in play that does not allow for someone not from the annointed group to get involved. I will refrain from naming them here, but will happily share them if you contact me privately.

c) National Service: I don’t think anyone is doubting the value of National Service to build a strong citizenry. The fact that the full-time NS period has been revised and reviewed to make it useful and appropriate, we are, nonetheless, placing a huge premium to serving NS over sporting excellence especially for those who are talented and have potential. This is where Joseph Schooling’s NS stumbling block comes into play. His parents had to fight to get his NS liabilities deferred so that he can continue training and be able to peak just at the right time for him to win the gold medal at the Olympics. And peak, he did.

I am mindful of all those who could have gone on to sporting excellence if only they had the persistence to get deferment (and be granted). We will never know how many there could have been.

Here’s a suggestion

We *must* have a fair and equitable means to assess people who have potential and let them flourish. Grant them the deferment, easily, but ensure that they are encouraged to keep at the vision/goal and if they succeed (like Joseph in getting his gold), grant them the status that they’ve completed their National Service. Naturally, if the person wants to discharge of his obligations, grant him the opportunity to do so. We can be magnanimous and forward thinking like that. We are Singapore. We can do this. Training to excel in sport is no different from training to defend the country. The mental, physical and emotional challenge may be comparable. The rewards are different, but the value accrued in both cases to the individual and country is immense.

d) Creating sporting excellence among the polytechnics, ITEs and universities. Have a league for the various sports. All of these institutions would benefit from having mascots that go a long way to building the school identity and pride. I was from RI and we have the Gryphon although we never did use it as a mascot. It has served the school well (I think) and we must encourage all schools to have mascots.

Look at UT Austin, home of the Longhorns, Joseph’s school. Look at their website today.

Screenshot from 2016-08-14 22-11-05

Sport has pride of place today. That’s outstanding. If you are a UT Austin alum, if you are called upon to donate to the school, would you hesitate? No. I went to Oregon State, and yes, I’m a proud Beaver. The US schools have a tradition of inspiring students via sport even if you are not sport oriented or interested. Sport unites people in amazing ways. Remember the Kallang Roar? It united a people. We stood together. We don’t have that now.

Our schools don’t have any of that as well. Start with schools having mascots, start with a sporting league. Webcast the games (it is 2016, get with it already).

Let’s open up and ideate to make sure that Joseph Schooling is not the last one. He succeeded because of his exiting the Singapore system to make it happen. He still honours Singapore. I am sure he will come back after graduation and I hope his achievement will call into question that absurd assumptions we have in place today on how to build a sporting nation.

Congratulations NUS Engineers Class of 2016!


My speech at the Commencement of NUS Faculty of Engineering on July 12, 2016 at 3:00 pm.

Mr Neo Kian Hong, Member, NUS Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Families of Graduands, Graduating Class of 2016, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good afternoon.

To the class of 2016, both my wife and I would like to extend our heartiest congratulations to all of you.

There are, here today, 515 graduates of which 106 getting joint bachelor’s, 3 with multi-disciplinary, 244 bachelor’s in computer and electrical engineering, 115 masters, and 47 PhDs degrees.

In a word, wow. What a fantastic collection of talent, potential and promise. A brain trust that would rival any other. The 2016 World University Ranking by Times Higher Education for Engineering and Technology, ranks NUS lucky 13th globally. Your alma mater is shining and you can rightly be proud of it! Surely that deserves a hearty round of applause!

I feel at home in the company of people who value the pursuit of knowledge with the vision to make this a better world. Engineers are dreamers, doers, builders, risk takers. Engineers are weird like that. That’s in our DNA. Our ethos.

As a child, I was enthralled with the idea of being able to walk on the moon. I wanted to become an astronaut. It has not happened, yet, but that goal has helped open up for me a vast vista of possibilities and opportunities. In its own way, that interest led me down the path of becoming a ham radio operator, 9v1hp is my call sign if you want to QSO, pursuing electrical and electronics engineering, and then computer engineering and computer science.

It was done during the time when technology, largely driven by the NASA space program’s need for high performance computing and semiconductor devices, was showing the way to bring to life, some of the ideas of what was essentially in science fiction.

It was a time when, much of the things we take for granted today, were mere ideas in Isaac Asimov‘s visions of tomorrow.

There is a wonderful interview of Asimov done by Bill Moyers in which they discuss education.

Let me quote you the following:

Bill Moyers asks:

Do you think we can educate ourselves, that any one of us, at any time, can be educated in any subject that strikes our fancy?

Isaac Asimov replies:

“The key words here are “that strikes our fancy.” There are some things that simply don’t strike my fancy, and I doubt that I can force myself to be educated in them. On the other hand, when there’s a subject I’m ferociously interested in, then it is easy for me to learn about it. I take it in gladly and cheerfully – what’s exciting is the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.”

Asimov later goes on to say:

“That’s another trouble with education as we now have it. People think of education as something that they can finish. And what’s more, when they finish, it’s a rite of passage. You’re finished with school. You’re no more a child, and therefore anything that reminds you of school — reading books, having ideas, asking questions — that’s kid’s stuff. Now that you’re an adult, you don’t do that sort of thing anymore.”

Education is never “finished”. It is also not marked by getting pieces of paper, or getting a grade, or even this today’s commencement.

You may have heard of adage “sharpening your saw”. A rusty or dull saw cannot cut you a tree. Sharpening the saw is key to keeping your knowledge fresh, alive and useful. Stop sharpening, you disintegrate.

It is fitting that today’s event is called a “commencement”. You are indeed commencing your next phase of life. It is the culmination of lots of sweat equity you expended to reach a goal, and then to go on to build new things. It is a cycle, not a treadmill. It is a deliberate and positive cycle of life.

There is a word for that. Entropy. And I find entropy a fascinating idea.

You may be wondering why would I want to bring in the “second law of thermodynamics” in the address.

A tl;dr definition of the 2nd law of thermodynamics says that the total entropy of an isolated system always increases over time, or remains constant in ideal cases where the system is in a steady state or undergoing a reversible process. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.

What was that all about, you wonder? What has entropy got to do with today’s proceedings? I hope Carnot, Clausius, Kelvin, Planck and Shannon would grant me this non-scientific postulation of their collective work.

Most of you have spent 4 years in this 111-year old institution, those getting their PhDs, a few more.

From the time you entered this school, entropy in you has been increasing. As knowledge, experience, wisdom and insights flowed from your dedicated faculty and your classmates to you – entropy increased. I say it increased because I am approximating the university as a closed system – as needed by the 2nd law.

When you take formal leave of this school’s lecture theatres, halls and labs, you will start the process of transferring the entropy – knowledge, experience etc – on to the big world outside these walls.

As you stand at the peak of this phase of your life’s adventure, the “you” sitting here is a very different “you” that entered this school. In giving of yourself to the future endeavours that you get into, you will be putting truth into the statement “that the entropy of the universe will always increase”.

By the end of this evening, all of you would hold in your hands a scroll that records your accomplishment. Savour and cherish that moment but only for a moment. It is an indication and acknowledgement that your next stage of possibilities and responsibilities has now been laid in front of you.

I am frequently reminded of a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president of the United States.

He said:

He who received an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his candle at mine, receives light without darkening mine. Then there is twice as much light.

Ideas are one of those fundamental qualities that make us all human. In other words, Ideas Maketh Homo Sapiens. It remains to be seen if Artificial Intelligence can generate ideas like we do.

Each of us generate hundreds of ideas every day without breaking a sweat. Most of them are not acted upon, but do serve as building blocks for something else, all done subconsciously. The “ah, ha!” moment is an example of that subconscious confluence of ideas.

If you must judge me, judge me by how good my good ideas are and not by how bad my bad ideas were.

I know you are all brimming with ideas of what to do next. I hope you will not be distracted by, what I consider, a falsehood that ideas need to be guarded, locked up and not shared with others.

I come from the world of open collaboration where software source code, the classic example of the embodiment of ideas, is freely shared and improved upon. The business I am part of, Red Hat, built its US$2b revenue business on 100% open source code, all achieved with open collaboration on ideas and code.

My empirical experience has been that when ideas (and code) are shared, they get sharpened and the outcome is both unpredictable and beautiful. And just last week, the source code of Apollo 11 spacecraft was released and it is amazing to read the code and understand the constraints they had to work with in 1969.

Please don’t hold back on sharing your ideas.

I shall practise what I’ve preached and here’s an idea that I hope some of you will consider picking up:

Electric cars are fun, but the challenge is one of re-charging it. Re-charging is being done today by retrofitting and building new charging infrastructure. And that takes time. So here’s my idea for a start-up which I shall call PowerBuddy:

a) PowerBuddy operates a mobile, battery-powered fleet of “charging vehicles”

b) these charging vehicles are strategically placed all over Singapore

c) As a subscriber to PowerBuddy, your car will be tracked with your permission, so that PowerBuddy will know what the charge level is at all times and, based on pre-arranged settings, provide a quick (or full) recharge wherever the car is parked at.

d) You can then go anywhere and not be worried about running out of juice and more importantly, not have to wait for the current infrastructure to catch up.

I hope some of you here will pick this up, ideate further and execute PowerBuddy. I would be happy to collaborate with you on this. We are engineers, we build solutions to address problems.

Engineering is a profession that loves precision but accepts and is extremely aware of real world approximations.

Any worthy engineer will solve problems in many cases by making assumptions, to a first approximation, and then to iteratively refine the solution until it is good enough. There is a growing community of engineers who recognise that “good enough” engineering is what makes the world happen. I believe in that approximation as well.

It was the French philosopher Voltaire who said: “Perfect is the opposite of Good Enough”. The real world we live in makes it almost impossible to be perfect. Embrace good enough and we can build solutions.

We all love to succeed. But success is a poor teacher – failure, on the other hand, is a fantastic albeit cruel teacher. You can learn lots from failure, but precious little from success.

So, make sure you define success on your own terms, and work to achieve success by your own rules. Fail, fail quick and often, so that you can succeed. And in that process, to build a life you’re proud to live.

Before I conclude, from one engineer to another, well done on becoming an engineer! Together, let’s build a better world.

And finally, thank you NUS for giving me this opportunity to address this afternoon’s commencement (Update: my address starts at around 0:26).

Congratulations Class of 2016.

Thank you.

This is quite a nice tool – magic-wormhole


I was catching up on the various talks at PyCon 2016 held in the wonderful city of Portland, Oregon last month.

There are lots of good content available from PyCon 2016 on youtube. What I was particularly struck was, what one could say is a mundane tool for file transfer.

This tool, called magic-wormhole, allows for any two systems, anywhere to be able to send files (via a intermediary), fully encrypted and secured.

This beats doing a scp from system to system, especially if the receiving system is behind a NAT and/or firewall.

I manage lots of systems for myself as well as part of the work I at Red Hat. Over the years, I’ve managed a good workflow when I need to send files around but all of it involved having to use some of the techniques like using http, or using scp and even miredo.

But to me, magic-wormhole is easy enough to set up, uses webrtc and encryption, that I think deserves to get a much higher profile and wider use.

On the Fedora 24 systems I have, I had to ensure that the following were all set up and installed (assuming you already have gcc installed):

a) dnf install libffi-devel python-devel redhat-rpm-config

b) pip install –upgrade pip

c) pip install magic-wormhole

That’s it.

Now I would want to run a server to provide the intermediary function instead of depending on the goodwill of Brian Warner.

 

Lots of rescued data


I had finally managed to rescue one of many drives that had documents and articles I wrote from the 90s and early 2000s.

I will be putting them up on this blog and would have to back date them. I am not sure how to do this right but I guess placing links into a “catalog” that has a current date and then to point to the older ones would be appropriate.

Here’s one from 2003.

Remember, Remember The Eleventh of September. Majulah Singapura.


My extended family will be voting sometime today. My wife and I will be exercising our right to vote at Qifa Primary School. That was the same place we voted in 2011. The People’s Action Party and Reform Party are contesting in this West Coast GRC.

11940284_10206326379092598_8725255103894262689_oI just came across this Peanuts cartoon done many years ago (and I am not sure of the copyright status of it). It is very appropriate as we go to the polls.

Remember, Remember The Eleventh of September.

After all is said and done, we are all in this together to make our country thrive and flourish for generations to come.

Majulah Singapura.

Ensuring that this gets as wide a read as possible before September 11, Polling Day


This has been circulating in the chat groups on telegram.org and whatsapp.com and want it to be as widely read as possible. I did not wirte it, and I would love to give credit to the author. If you are the author or know who wrote it. please tell me so that I can give credit where credit is due.

A very well written article by a young Singaporean to be read before one votes this coming Friday:

I am a Singaporean voter. I want our policies to be thoroughly examined by different political parties in the Parliament.

I know all the candidates have different strengths, weaknesses and abilities but that is exactly the whole idea. A policy paper can be better scrutinized by different people with different perspectives, angles and insights. Ultimately, Singapore and Singaporeans benefit from better policies. Good policies can withstand scrutiny, no matter who came up with them.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want our anti-corruption department to be completely detached from the power of any government, regardless of political party

The department should be a checks-and-balances asset for the people of Singapore. The anti-corruption department should report directly to the people and conduct regular and random checks on every single branch of the state and government to ensure nobody plays under the table. Nobody.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want our civil service, army, police and judiciary systems to be independent from any politically-motivated decisions from any incumbent government.

I dislike the practice of parachuting newly-resigned civil servants, army or police officers or judges into the political sphere weeks or days before elections. This presents a serious conflict of interests because these newly-converted politicians still hold networks of influence within their old jobs and that may present dilemmas in crucial decision-making. Imagine if we go to war and our generals hesitate to act because they are considering military decisions based on answering to ex-colleagues-turned-ministers on which electoral constituency to defend or retreat from. Wouldn’t that be a disaster if they lost battle initiative due to such considerations?

I am a Singaporean voter. I understand all policies cost valuable taxpayers’ monies.

I am not a rabbit. I don’t eat carrots dangling in front of me. I am not a dog. I refuse to be tamed or intimidated by fear-mongering tactics. I am not a crazy person either. I don’t intend to bankrupt Singapore or Singaporeans over poorly-planned policies. I am, however, keeping an open mind to alternative suggestions to current policies. I don’t mind these alternatives be thoroughly debated in Parliament because there is always a chance to find moderation and suitability in them until these policies can meet the needs and wants of Singaporeans.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want my government to work for me, not against me and certainly not for themselves. I want my politicians to earn their keep, not sleep through in Parliament and just nod their heads in agreement to pass policies into bills which are not clearly understood by the people.

Governments are servants to the people. If they lord over their own voters, they are not governments. They are called tyrants. I understand the need for attractive pay to entice the best talents and minds into a government. However, I want such salaries to be pegged to real performance in their terms of office. This is called meritocracy. Any member of parliament who naps in parliamentary sessions should receive a pay cut for that month. No excuses. Any member of parliament who has contributed no constructive suggestions to any policies in a year should receive a pay cut for that year. Any member of parliament who broke the laws of Singapore should receive a demerit ceremony in public and serve the necessary sentence in whichever way deem fit by the people of Singapore.

I am a Singaporean voter. I want Singapore to survive longer than any political squabble or contest.

If any political party claims that Singapore will collapse or be in ruins if they are voted out of power, that means we have built the country in the wrong way. All political parties face the possibility of total dissolution but as a Singaporean, I want Singapore to possess a robust system where it can survive any change of power from any political party. This means the civil service, army, police and judiciary system must remain apolitical if they understand such a national need beyond political competition.

I am a Singaporean voter. Vote not for Singapore’s past. Vote not for Singapore’s present. Vote for Singapore’s future.

#ge2015

As the silly season starts


By noon on September 1st, we will know who are running for the 89 seats in the parliament.

As voters we are all keen to know who the candidates are. The irony is that the majority voters don’t really know who their current member of parliament is to begin with. I know who mine is, but I have not met nor spoken to him ever. That being the reality, how would you go about making a considered and fair assessment of how you should be casting your vote.

Let me offer up a short checklist to help with the thinking:

  1. Is your’s, your family’s and of Singapore’s future important to you?
  2. If you said YES to 1, do you think the candidate(s) in your ballot paper will be able to deliver the future you want?
  3. If you said NO to 1, it does not matter who you vote for.  So VOTE, PLEASE DON’T SPOIL THE VOTE EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SPOIL IT.
  4. If you said YES to 2, have you understood who the candidate(s) is(are) and where they stand on issues that is of concern to you? Have you done sufficient research to be able to be honest to yourself to come to a decision?
  5. If you said NO to 2, are you prepared to find out why you think they cannot deliver the future you want?
  6. If you said NO to 5, it does not matter who you vote for. So VOTE, PLEASE DON’T SPOIL THE VOTE EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO SPOIL IT.
  7. If you said YES to 5, do spend time reading, talking to family, friends, colleagues or just about any other Singaporean voter. Do make sure that you get to hear from all sides not just one side.

See, it is quite easy to navigate the silly season.

Do be aware that what is called “Mainstream Media” (MSM), which especially in the Singapore context, has very low credibility in terms of being fair, balanced and critical. These MSM include the newspapers, TV and radio owned and operated by Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp. These entities are government-linked companies and have never been known to challenge or be critical of government policies. Investigative and critical reporting is NOT what they can ever do (or to be fair, allowed to do).

Having said all of that, do take about 10 minutes to listen to this TEDx talk that discusses how entities, like governments and political parties, would do all that they can to astroturf opinion and understanding of issues. Don’t be lulled by catchphrases, innuendoes, carrots, meat etc.

And, yes, this post could perhaps be also playing that game.

Majulah Singapura!

#ge2015

He probably is indeed telling the truth! (info graphic updated on Aug 29)


It would appear that ESM Goh Chok Tong is indeed telling the truth that “checks and balances are a seductive lie”.

He says in that article that: “the check comes from the “integrity of the leadership in PAP.”

Let’s dissect the notion of checks and balances. I will draw reference to how the PAP-run town councils built-sold-then-leased-back the town council management system. This system was withdrawn from use by the Worker’s Party following their 2011 general election take over of the Aljunied GRC.The fact that a key piece of infrastructure needed to run the town council had to be replaced with something new, I would assert, contributed to the issues that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol-East Town Council faced.

The town council management software was paid for from public funds, not party funds. The public funds also included funds from contributions made to the town councils that were under the PAP then. So, just because there was a “change” in the MPs running the GRC/town council, to then deny them a key infrastructure goes against all commonsense and fairness.

And to make things even worse, the “Coordinating Chairman” of the PAP town councils made statements that were totally wrong. In my post in 2013, I addressed his comments and you can read it there.

Coming back to what ESM Goh said a couple of days ago about checks and balance being a seductive lie, he probably is telling the truth. The PAP, it would appear, has been lying all along and seduced us all.

Let me share this info graphic which was sent to me. I am not sure of the origin of it or what licence is it made available (assuming CC). It seems to be from a facebook page of Temasek Review.

11954780_880117968708186_8038350811398547849_n
From Temasek Review’s Facebook page. Assuming CC license.

Update: August 29, 2015. The infographic above is incorrect and I have updated it to reflect that there indeed was a tender to sell the system.

updated infographic to reflect that there was a tender called.
updated infographic to reflect that there was a tender called.

The need for a independent Electoral Commission


I am reading the Candidate Handbook for Parliamentary Election 2015 for the first time. I don’t have any of the earlier versions so I cannot tell what the changes are (yes, no edit history/change log; here’s a local copy: Candidate Handbook for Parliamentary Election 2015_1 in case the ELD.gov.sg site goes down).

According to Section 4.1 of the handbook:

Candidates should conduct election campaigning in a responsible and dignified manner that befits the seriousness of the election process. Candidates should steer away from negative campaigning practices based on hate and denigration of opposing candidates, and should not make false statements that allege corruption or commission of criminal offences, or statements that may cause racial or religious tensions or affect social cohesion. Egregious acts of negative campaigning could also be in breach of the law.

As noted by Viswa Sadasivan in his IQ post, this paragraph has many issues. Who would be the adjudicators of this? How does one raise an infraction?

We could crowd source to tally up of the various transgressions on an hourly/daily basis on a wiki or Google doc. This will help, if nothing else for posterity, but more so for transparency, regardless what is done with “the list”.

Further reading of the Candidate Handbook gives more nuggets:

On page 30 (Section 4.5.4):

iv. no form of public entertainment (such as singing, dancing or showing a film) shall be provided, and no live-streaming of any event (including the election meeting itself) shall be shown before, during and after the election meeting;

I wonder what the “live streaming”  is referred to here? I have to assume that it means that live streaming done by the candidate/party themselves is a no go. I cannot see how I, as a person in the audience at the rally, choosing to use Google Hangouts or Periscope to stream the rally is a no go. I have the right to do so.

These additional conditions are intriguing (page 30/31):

Other conditions that will be imposed are:

a. only persons named in the application for the permit and who are approved as speakers can speak at the election meeting;

b. members of the Central Executive Committee or an equivalent governing body of a political party as well as candidate(s) from the same political party who are nominated in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap 218) for election as a Member of Parliament for an electoral division shall only be permitted to speak at election meetings held by their own political party. They may not speak at election meetings held by an Independent Candidate or another political party even if they are concurrently members (of any type) of that other political party. The reference to a political party includes political alliances registered as a political party. An Independent candidate can only speak at election meetings for which a permit has been issued to him/her or his/her election agent. He/She will not be allowed to speak at election meetings held by political parties or other Independent candidates contesting in the elections. However, where a member of the Central Executive Committee member or an equivalent governing body of a political party has been nominated in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act for election as a Member of Parliament for an electoral division as a candidate for another political party or as part of a group of Independent candidates, he may be permitted to speak at all election meetings held by that other political party or at the election meeting held by that group of Independent candidates as the case may be;

emphasis added

Why would you DISALLOW a party or independent candidate from speaking at each other’s rally? While it would be strange for “opposing” candidates to speak at each other’s rally, stating it the way it is done smacks of being excessive and is curtailing one’s freedom to speak.  Granted that no one would want to or accept an invitation to speak at a PAP rally, but denying it explicitly, seems rather draconian.

Why did I name this post “the need for an independent electoral commission”? The fact that these “guidelines” did not have any public consultation – it might have been there but I cannot find any references to such. Because the Elections Department reports to the Prime Minister, I doubt that they have any form of independence or opportunity to do things better that could be negative for the PAP but good for Singapore.

More drama to unfold I am sure.

Five days to nomination.

And the games have begun


Oh, the classic off-by-one error. All of us who were expecting the polling day to be September 12, started counting from the day after the nomination day. Missed out the fact that nomination day itself is counted. Classic CS 101 error.

Now that the games have begun, it is not surprising to see the Elections Department (that reports to the Prime Minister who is also the secretary general of the current majority-in-parliament party) putting out new rules.

This is exactly what, many other Singaporeans and myself have advocated for: that the elections department should be stand alone, independent entity. The text from the PDF (linked above) is included here:

Advisory on Participation in Political Activities and Election Campaigning by Civic, Business and Professional Bodies

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, any person who conducts activities to promote or procure the election of a candidate, must be individually authorised in writing by the candidate or his election agent on and from Nomination Day.

Individuals who are not citizens of Singapore are prohibited from taking part in any election activity and cannot be so authorised.

2 In addition, any civic, business or professional body that wishes to participate in any political activity or allow its funds and/or premises to be used for political purposes needs to ensure that its constitution allows it to do so, and ensure that this does not contravene any laws that the body is subject to.

3 Such political activities include endorsing certain candidates and publishing advertisements or issuing press statements to express its support for a candidate. If such advertisements or statements amount to election advertising, the relevant rules under the Parliamentary Elections Act and its regulations have to be complied with.

4 While such bodies should have their own processes to consult their members and consider the merits of supporting a candidate, it remains each individual’s right as a voter, regardless of his membership of any organisation, to freely decide whom to support and how to cast his vote.

ISSUED BY
ELECTIONS DEPARTMENT
PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE
26 August 2015

I think this document is pretty standard and has nothing new. What would be useful is if this document’s conditions are meant to be observed from August 26th onwards and not retroactive. This is being asked because the PAP did use a VWO facilities for a very clear political purpose – that of introducing their candidates.

I am not hopeful that the Elections Department would state if their new rules were violated.

Fair play and transparency is even more critical in this hustings. The world is watching.

What I want for the future of Singapore starting today.


rainbow-2 (2)
CC-BY version 4 – View from my house looking north. Rainbow (primary and secondary) originating in Bt Timah and ending somewhere at Clementi

Fifty years of being an independent country and having seen how we have evolved over the years with my fellow Singaporeans is just amazing. Yes, the political hand did play a significant part in the direction we took, but if we are to continue to thrive and get even better, we need to relook and reassess many things.

As the next general elections is looming (some say September 12 2015), here are my list of things I want to have a conversation around as well as action taken. These are in no particular order, except that these were listed over several weeks. I have diliberately left them unorganized/unsorted.

1. Withdrawal of the Internal Security Act. Failing which, a mandatory judicial review within 48 hours of anyone arrested. And they have to be presented in court within 30 days or be released.

2. Formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission: At fifty years of independence, we should be looking at reviewing al the dark days and getting a closure to all of them – no exception. Yes, it will hurt people along the process, but we need to clean and clear the deck.

3. No walk overs. All seats will be contested. Even if there is only one candidate, that candidate must get at least 25% votes in favour or else the seat is vacant. Democracy has to be seen to happen and not be something that is manipulated via technicalities. This applies to the silly GRC system as well.

4. Full disclosure of all the assets of GIC and Temasek. No excuses.

5 Set up of an Independent Electoral Commission

6. Removing the pre-requisites for being a President – anyone born in Singapore and above the age of 40 can run for president.

7. Live and archived broadcast of all parliamentary proceedings – warts, sleepy heads, yawns and all.

8. Freedom of Information Act

9. Removal of GRCs

10. Release of all government records after 30 years.

11. MPs will focus only on municipal work and bringing up issues in parliament. This means that other than the Prime Minister and a Deputy Prime Minister (as elected MPs), every minister shall be nominated and qualified people who were NOT ELECTED into parliament. Such nominations will be done AFTER the elections and these nominees will be confirmed by parliamentary committees convened for this purpose. The term of a minister so chosen will be for the duration of the government. This is to give separation of executive from municipal issues.

12. No pensions for MPs

13. All government systems will be built using open source software and where they don’t exist, to fund technology to meet it. The code will be available for anyone to use.

14. Review Instruction Manual to bring it up to date.

15. Removal of 2nd language as a requirement. Languages such as Tamil, Malay and Mandarin shall be taught at levels that should encourage their usage but not to the extent that is being done today. Students can optionally decide to take on a full 2nd language load if they want to. PSLE to be reviewed to level the playing field to ensure that social mobility is achievable and elitism to be contained.

16. Removal of licensing of newspapers etc. No government oversight.

17. Fixed dates for elections. No longer at the whim and fancy of the government of the day.

18. Mayors to be abolished. No practical value. If Mayors have to be kept in place, they must be elected positions not held by MPs.

19. All town council software systems will be publicly funded and built using open source and available to anyone – not party specific.

20. People’s Association restructured to have NO political links. The MP of an area is the advisor to the local grassroots organizations and the People’s Association works with the elected MP at all times.

21. Review of all HDB designs to that the apartments are of a decent size and not shoebox sizes

22. Proper labelling of GMO foods

23. Giving the consumer advocacy more authority – from a legal perspective.

24. Review of ALL government scholarships with a view to reduce the “bond” period to no more than 3 years after graduation. This is to free up people for the private sector.

25. Proportional representation in parliament. This is the best way

26. No Trans Pacific Partnership without national referendum

27. Outlawing of software patents.

28. Residential use of down link satellite systems.

29. Singaporean astronauts by 2020.

30. Smart power generation via Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors. This is critical is we are to achieve our Smart Nation vision which is power hungry.

31. During elections, the “party political broadcasts” will all be of the same duration of ten minutes per party contesting and ten minutes for each independent. Similarly for presidential elections – each candidate gets the same amount of time.

32. Exit polls encouraged – the best part of these polls is that, in most cases, these polls are completely wrong but by specifically not allowing for it, there is no empirical evidence.

33. Removal of death penalty

34. Removal of 3/4 tank rule

35. Allow dual/multiple citizenships

36. ASEAN Day, August 8th, to be officially observed – starting from 2017, the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN.

37. Introduce a National Thanksgiving Day starting in 2015.

38. SAF Day to be renamed National Service Day and to encourage donning of uniform by all NSmen (SAF, Police, SCDF) during that day.

39. Removal of election deposit (all elections).

40. All Singapore Standards documents (coming out of SPRING Singapore) should be make available in electronic format at no cost.

41. Reinstate sale of chewing gum – educate on how to dispose them and we will be just fine.

42. Remove REITs to mitigate the excessive rental rates. Or create a rent control scheme to manage the runaway rents.

43. Hawker center rentals to be controlled by NEA and have to always be affordable.

44. Introduce Pay-As-You-Bid for COE bidding. The base line for each category will continue to be what it is today and that is the number that will be used for all subsequent considerations regardless of what the PAYB paid.

45. Singaporeans living outside Singapore will be exempt from Medishield Life.

46. Automatic forgiveness of National Service defaulters after they reach age of 50.

47. Removal of censorship of Internet sites and films. Rating of films to continue.

48. Removal of no alcohol law (introduced after the Little India incident)

49. Review the ORBAT of the SAF and Police to reduce the number of BGs and ACs. There are too many of them.

50. All tax payer funded research (and code developed) must be made available on a GPL-like license for anyone to use at no cost.

To keep things in context


Just so that we don’t get distracted with all the SG50 festivities and forget key historical details, here’s some of the festive commemorations we’ve seen in Singapore.

In four years, 2019, Singapore would be 200 years old from the day, in 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles representing the British East India Company signed a treaty with Temenggong Abdul Rahman and the Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor to hand over Singapore to the EIC to become a trading post. That marked the start of Singapore being a British colony. Not sure if the monies promised to the two as per the treaty are still being paid.

Even if the 200th anniversary is not observed because of commemoration-fatique coupled with the lack of an impending election (as it was in 1969) there was some small observation of the 150th anniversary as noted in this from the National Archives:

I don’t recall any big rah-rah then (I was in Primary 4), considering that Singapore was 4 years into its independence, probably not much. I was personally more enthralled with the NASA Moon Landing than anything else.

It was not quite subdued  when you fast forward to 1984. There was a General Election coming and the government, I mean, the ruling party rolled out the “25 Years of Nation Building” celebrations in earnest. This commemoration was complete with month-long (may have been many months) National Exhibition at the then World Trade Centre exhibition halls in Telok Blangah. I remember going there to see the exhibition and being quite annoyed with the PAP-ism in the exhibition. The 25 years was about 25 years since 1959 when the PAP came into government, not about Independence. It had a clear political objective and despite sweeting the electorate, two opposition members won seats against the PAP – the late J. B. Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong.

That 1984 opposition victory royally pissed off the then Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who did his best to get rid of JBJ (by suing him for many things, and in the process bankrupting him and then gerrymandering the Anson constituency into Tanjong Pagar).

So, after that “25 Years of Nation Building”,

25 Years of Nation Building
25 Years of Nation Building

we have SG50 just in time for the next General Elections. The same tricks cannot be played now as we have far more information out there and no one in their right mind trusts the local MSM (The Singapore Press Holdings, or MediaCorp). People who DO watch or listen or read output from those two entities have always discounted the validity, integrity and credibility. They have not gone down to the absurdity of the US Fox News channel (at least not yet), but the slant these two have to being essentially pro-PAP is plain to see.

So as we wind down SG50 and gear up for General Elections 2015, remember, Singapore@200 is just FOUR years away and there are no general elections to fight then.

A special moment in time


It is sad that Achan (dad in Malayalam) is not around to watch and take part in the festivities around Singapore’s 50th National Day. I *know* instinctively how excited he would have been. He was a fan of pomp and pageantry although he, to the best of my knowledge, did not take part in any National Day parades.

Achan came to Singapore towards the close of the Pacific War (Second World War). He was with the British Indian Army and was stationed in Burma before being relocated to Singapore. When the war was over, he was discharged from the Army and choose to stay on in Singapore. That’s the start of our family in Singapore.

For some reason, Achan never really talked about his time during the war excepts for snippets here and there. He was not in the frontline dodging bullets, but because of his eyesight not being too good and he having learned shorthand and type-writing, was deployed as an admin clerk with whoever was the commander.

He shared with me once about how he was able to keep records of instructions and dispatches to the front line because those had to be typed and needed copies to be made at the same time. Those were done using carbon paper sandwiched between blank papers. When he had to type out orders – critical ones I assume – he’d use fresh carbon paper so that he could keep it and not reuse it. He therefore had a copy of what was sent out – in the carbon paper! I did ask him whatever happened to them and if he had it with him. “No”, was the answer. Never did press him though.

passport-cover-edited
Front cover of Achan’s passport. Issued by the British for citizens of the Colony of Singapore.achan-passport-2Inside of Achan’s passport

Achan married Amma in 1957 and a few years later, I was born. I was born a few months after Singapore was granted self rule in May 1959. Achan was, from a citizenship perspective, a “British Subject, Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies”.My birth certificate states that Achan was a “Citizen of United Kingdom and Colonies” and going by convention of the child’s citizenship following the father, I too was a citizen of the UK and Colonies.

Just before my fourth birthday, Singapore joined Malaysia as a state, after from all accounts a one-sided referendum. That union made the Pillays Malaysian citizens.

The main thing I remember while we were Malaysians was that Indonesia wasn’t happy with the Federation of Malaysia which included Peninsular Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and British North Borneo (Sabah). The Indonesians launched attacks on Singapore and Malaysia (called Konfrontasi).

I remember one evening, Achan came back home early. We were living in Puay Hee Avenue (somewhere near the corner of Puay Hee Avenue and Siang Kuang Avenue in Senette Estate) –

Screenshot from 2015-08-10 14-52-58
Google Street View

This is from Google Maps and those houses there today were not the ones then. It was a single storey detached house with a driveway and a garden etc.

On the day he came home early, he brought my sister and myself on my tricycle to go look at a crater in the road near our house which was done by a bomb planted by the Indonesian army. The following quote makes reference to that:

On 9 December 1963, a bomb went off under a car along Jalan Wangi, Sennett Estate, killing two shopkeepers.

Another memory was him coming home early and saying that he had to walk all the way home from his office in High Street because there was no public transport which all were shut down because of riots.

I remember asking him a few days later if he knew when the next riots would be so that he could come home earlier to play with me!

One other memory I have from that period was going with Achan and Amma (and I think my baby sister came along with us as well) to check out a new house. Achan had in his possession a bunch of keys to apartments in Queenstown and he was told to go check them out and choose one. Imagine that.

I recall us arriving at Commonwealth Drive and then trying to locate the various units. The blocks along Commonwealth Crescent did not have block numbers (yet) and there was no easy way to figure out the addresses. I remember having to walk from block to block looking for the units for which Achan had the keys. We finally settled on 260D, Commonwealth Crescent. And sometime in 1964, we moved out of Puay Hee Avenue to our new HDB 3-room apartment in Commonwealth Crescent, Queenstown.

After being part of Malaysia leading to the Indonesian military confrontation and bitter dispute between the Singaporean state and Malaysian federal governments, Singapore and Malaysia mutually agreed to separate (yes, not kicked out) on August 9th 1965.

And overnight we Pillays became Citizens of Singapore. I changed citizenship three times before I was six years old.

I don’t recall the day when we left Malaysia. The only memory I have is someone saying, sometime later, that we now have to get a passport to go to Johore Bahru (as it was spelled then). How bizarre. Passport – not that I knew what that was!

Finally, I was a Singapore citizen. Not by choice, but by happy circumstance.

There was a time back when I was in primary six (1971), when the registration for the Identity Card was being undertaken in school. I recall Achan not being too keen for me to get my IC, because that meant that I’d have to do National Service which was introduced in 1967. For someone who served during wartime, I guess he was apprehensive with anything to do with the military. Probably explains why he was never much to discuss his time during the war.

So, fast forward many years, to 2015 and here we are the day after Singapore’s 50th National Day enjoying the hardwork of generations of Singaporeans to make newsfeed-big-logothis place home. Achan left us in 2007 and I am sure if he was here, he would have relished every moment, just as we continue to do.

It is a special moment in time. As my younger son was remarking yesterday as we made our way down to the Marina Bay to watch the fireworks, “this is the ideal time to wreak havoc in Singapore. All the people gathering around. The crowds. All you need is some crackpot to blow something up.” And it did not happen. We don’t have a locked-down state. We have a free country (granted we can have more freedoms).

As we look forward to the next 50 years to SG100 (when the boys would be 67 and 65 respectively!!), what kind of a country would it be? Can I help make it what it should be by working with the next generation NOW to make it happen? I shall leave that as subject of another post.

Majulah Singapura!

Completely missing the point about silly mobile “data plans”


I have on my cell phone a “plan” that gives me 50G of mobile data. When I first got the data plan back in 2006 or so, I think the telco provided I believe 2G as part of a “contract”. Then they unilaterally increased it to 5G and then to 10G and by about the end of 2007 to 50G. Pretty good I’ d say. In addition to that service on my cell phone, I got another one with data-only which also was upped to 50G. For the data-only plan, it costs me $25.14 per month.

mobYes, I don’t seem to be using much of it. Same for my cell phone data plan. But for me the 50G is important as there are times that I use both of them as mobile hotspots and I don’t want to even bat an eyelid on using it.

Then the telcos stopped giving these large data plans and started to offer tiered plans on 1G, 2G, 3G etc. And priced it differently as well. And some of them were “nice” enough to not put on a large price differential when you exceed your plan.

All of this was done on the lamest of excuse “network congestion”. That lie has been repeated over and over again that it is becoming really annoying especially when you start seeing Yahoo etc carrying commentary about why it makes sense to have data caps. And especially when this commentary makes statements like:

(And no, it’s not because they just wanted to fill their pockets.)

(yes it is)

Unlimited Data Means Network Congestion

Let’s do a simple networking 101.

All data traffic goes via TCP/IP packets. It is called packets because your data stream to and from your device is broken into data packets and sent. The TCP protocol ensures that the packets will arrive at the destination reliably with no data loss. These packets are all sent over the data channel from the device to and from the cell phone base station and onwards to the end point where ever it is.

Congestion happens when there is insufficient capacity to accept the packets coming in. Congestion has ZERO bearing on the “data plan” of the subscriber. Zero. Zilch. Nada. If there are ten people with five of them on a 2G plan and the other 5 on a 50G plan (like mine), and all ten are connected to the same base station, each of them will have the exact same speed to connect between the base station and the device assuming that the base station can handle ten SIMULTANEOUS connections and has enough BUFFERS to manage the data packets.

Congestion results when there are insufficient slots for simultaneous connections and/or the buffers are full. The data plan has nothing to do here.

Hence, when telcos say that their network is congested, it is because they have failed to provision enough capacity and is NOT and NEVER because of whatever data plan they sold.

End of networking 101.

Tiered Data Plans Weed Out Data Hoggers

Where does the author even get that notion? BS!

I have not been on a “contract” with the telco ever since my “contract” expired years ago. They’ve tried many times to entice me to sign up with a contract (ooh, you can get this new shiny phone at this *wonderful* price. yada, yada, yada). But that would have meant that I will loose my 50G data – essentially unlimited from my point of view. Thank you, but no thank you.

I do look forward to MyRepublic launching their unlimited mobile data plan. I am already using their 1G (speed not data) fibre to the home service and I am so far rather pleased with it. They were the first to offer 1G fibre and now all of the other providers have followed suit. I guess, when MyRepublic rolls out the unlimited mobile data plan, the other will do their “me-too” dance.

Perhaps for clarity, people need to understand that a “data plan” is not the same as the “speed of connection”. The mobile broadband system has connections are different speeds (3G, 4G, LTE etc). Regardless of your connection speed, the data traffic is still done using TCP/IP and congestion is all about capacity to connect and not the “data plan”.

The rain on the parade made it meaningful


source unknown. please contact me to give appropriate credit.
source unknown. please contact me to give appropriate credit.

Thank you, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. You gave your whole life to this country of ours. My parents, my siblings, my family and all of my extended family count our blessings for the gumption you lived with to make this place work.

You have set the benchmark. It is for us to measure up to it and extend it further. No half measures will do.

Even though I disagree with some the means you deployed for the ends you wanted for Singapore, I think we can do better. We have to have closure as a nation on the aspects of our last 50 years that need to be addressed and reconciled with.

I would call for the setting up of an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, not unlike what was done in South Africa by President Nelson Mandela. We owe it to ourselves and to the legacy you’ve left behind to make sure that any and all blemishes are addressed and as President Clinton said “being on the level”.

Today, March 29 2015, we said farewell to you, Mr Lee. The heavens poured like no tomorrow. Literally. It rained on the solemn parade but that made it very poignant and meaningful. The skies cleared when Singapore said the final farewell as we recited the Pledge and sang Majulah Singapura.

Yes, we can make the next fifty years even more amazing and make this paradise of ours that much better.

Majulah Singapura.

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!

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.

Toshiba’s FlashAir wifi-enabled SD card


I was looking around on Saturday at the various SD cards for my Canon 500D. I thought that since there are these new fangled wifi-enabled ones, I should consider getting one of those.

My enquiries in Funan Centre initially began at Challenger. They had a 8GB model for S$79 which I thought was very expensive (not that I did any check on the costs yet) and enquired if there were bigger capacity ones. The store assistant said that there are, but they don’t have any in stock.

Great, I thought.  I will use the S$79 as my upper limit for this and went from store to store. Funny that some camera stores don’t carry these devices – why that would be the case eludes me, but I reckon, those stores don’t want the extra hassle of having to understand how wifi works!

Finally, I came across Song Brothers (2nd floor, Funan), who not only had the Toshiba 16G models in stock for S$75, and another from PQI, called PQI Air Card for $68. Both were rated at 16GB. Looking at the cheaper one I decided not to get it because the brand was new to me. So, I settled for the Toshiba FlashAir 16GB class 10 SD card with WiFi capabilities. The card is a SDHC – Secure Digital High Capacity model.

The Obligatory Review:

This card is white in colour Toshiba FlashAir 16GB SD-Wifiand when you insert into the camera (or any SD card reader), the wifi hotspot fires up. The SSID takes the form of “flashair_WifiMACAddress”, which in my case is “flashair_e8e0b79af4fc”. Pretty cool I’d say.  They have a Android app as well. Even if you don’t use the app, you can connect to this SD card if your device has a wifi capability. All you then need to do is to attach to that SSID and in the browser of the device, go to: http://flashair/.

What you will see is the contents of the DCIM directory on the SD card. You can then download the contents. Nice. What I like about this is that the card does not need to connect to some external wifi access point and no need to connect to any server to make the contents available.

For the purposes of extracting the images out of the card, this method works very well. You can use it in any place so long as your other device can connect to the card via wifi. No dependence on wifi infrastructure and other server systems is very good.

What would be useful is the app on the Android to have some extra cleverness and be able to pull files out of the card and send it to other destinations and not only on the Android device (phone, tablet etc), although I reckon if you pull the images and put them into the folder on your Android device that is set up to upload to picasaweb (for example), then that would suffice. In any case, the code for the Andrioid app is not available – which is pity – for I am sure there will be clever tweaks done to it to make it very useful.

I must note that when I used the card at an event where my older son was graduating from Secondary 4 at SJI, the photos and videos were saved very quickly and at no time did I have to wait before the next shot, all because it is a class 10 card. Nice.

The file structure of the card is as follows:

./SD_WLAN:
216 Mar 11 CONFIG

./MISC:

./DCIM:
100__TSB

./DCIM/100__TSB:
128751 Mar 11  2013 FA000001.JPG

./GUPIXINF:
32768 Mar 11  2013 CARDICON

./GUPIXINF/CARDICON:
12021 Mar 11  2013 ICON_128.PNG
1800 Mar 11  2013 ICON_32.PNG
1250 Mar 11  2013 ICONINF.TXT

The CONFIG file is what that gets read and worked with by the Wifi stack. The contents of that file is:

[Vendor]

CIPATH=/DCIM/100__TSB/FA000001.JPG
APPMODE=4
APPNETWORKKEY=**********
VERSION=F19BAW3AW2.00.01
CID=02544d535731364708d085847800d401
PRODUCT=FlashAir
VENDOR=TOSHIBA
MASTERCODE=40b0fac41a58
LOCK=1

The default wifi key is 12345678 which gets replaced by the * as shown in the APPNETWORKKEY above when the card is first inserted and switched on. I cannot find where the actual value is kept for later use.  I am sure that there are some hidden areas that the actual key is kept at. Perhaps the wifi electronics has some flash storage for that. I will run testdisk on the card to see what can be found.

I am indeed pleased to see Toshiba setup and provide a lot of details at a new FlashAir developers site and all the configurable details are explained in the tutorials.   This does look very, very promising and I am sure that there will be plenty of places that Toshiba’s FlashAir can be deployed, way beyond making conventional DSLRs wifi enabled devices.

All in, I am quite pleased with the wifi card. And 16G is a decent size but with the wifi capability, it does make the use case very interesting.

Will we ever have engineers?


As noted by Vivian, the first of three key ingredients before anything starts is to have engineers, engineers who are valued and who want to change the world by their work and their ideas.

As an engineer myself I of course agree with that.  As we laud engineers and the possibilities of what that means, I fear that we are being set up for failure. We as in Singapore, that is. We not skilling up enough members of the next generation to become engineers to the extent that we need.

Back when I completed my “A” levels (1977), electrical engineering was the *hottest* program to get into, regardless of university.  Fast forward to today, 2013, getting into E school has dipped to an all time low, especially, electrical engineering (and I will lump computer, communications and electronics into that).

The competition is now for entry into business school and, dare I say, the “softer” programs.  There, I’ve said it.  We are not seeing strong competition for entry into the hard sciences nor math nor engineering. What happened?

Where and when will we be able to reverse this spiral into mediocrity?

I was attending the Singapore Polytechnic open house yesterday. My older son is keen on the Poly and electrical engineering at that. It warms my heart that he want to take that program and it was all his personal choice.  I do not demand our sons to follow the paths of their parents, but if they do, it is a bonus.

But what bothers me is that the Poly lists electrical engineering as having the least competitive entry requirements – 22 points (the O level scores needed from the English, 2 relevant subjects and 2 best subjects) and Business Administration needing 12. Really? 12 vs 22?

See this document:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/166426183/Singapore-Polytechnic-2013-Entry

Note that the most sought after engineering program is Aeronautical Engineering (12 points) and the least is Electrical and Electronic Engineering (22 points) while Biomedical Science is the most sought after at 8 points. Perhaps the 8 points and the 22 points are outliers but it is still very worrisome.

Things to be thankful for as we celebrate 48 years of independence. Majulah Singapura!


I’m thankful for:

  1. If we were ever at war, it was under the Union Jack, not the Crescent and Stars. Singapore has never been to war.  While, yes, we have a small standing military setup and a large citizen-army comprising reservists. And the fact that we have a large reservist citizen-led ready-at-a-moment’s notice force is perhaps the single biggest achievement of the pioneering cabinet who initiated National Service in 1967. All things considered, the spin-off of NS has been the breaking down of both imaginary and real societal barriers with the exposure to ideas that can challenge one’s world view. The immigrant society that this nation was built from (and being redefined as it were) needs that anchoring and sense of belonging. I know that my 2.5 years in Police NS as an Inspector of Police gave me an opportunity to grow up and understand life’s warts and all. Though it would be naive to suggest that we’ve gained a united society, we are well down that path. Some characterize NS as a waste of time or that it is a means to indoctrinate the people.  While there is an element of truth to that, as with any uniformed organization, I think there are many knock-on effects that is hard to put a dollar value to.  Suffice to say, I would be really proud when the time comes, to see my two sons do their service to their country of birth.
  2. Great weather (but we could always use with less humidity) which means you have an all year round opportunity to explore that great outdoors, not only in Singapore but in the neighbouring countries.
  3. Good water. Yes, this is the tropics and yes, with the earlier reference to humidity, we should really be deriving potable water from the air around us. That will certainly see us being very self-sufficient in that essential life-sustaining compound.
  4. Great people. People are what a country makes. I believe that adversities and challenges are the fire that forge the psyche of a nation. It is good to have a governmental system that supports the people, especially those who are “falling behind”, but ultimately, what makes a nation is still the people. This statement is true for any nation and all of humanity. As Carl Sagan might have said as he gazed on the picture of our planet from a far, there are no borders that delineate nations. It is just one planet. Yes, we are an island and our borders are not land-based but sea-based, so that observation still applies.
  5. Great Family.  I am thankful for the wonderful family I was born into and the extended family that I’ve been able to create with my wife.  My family has spread its wings and are now pretty much all over this planet. But Singapore is still home. Warts and all. It’s what makes for memories and a place under the sun.

I just finished watching this year’s National Day Parade. Did not get to go watch it in person, but that’s fine. Growing up, I was fortunate to have had been in the 1973 (RI Red Cross, Sec 2, Padang), 1974 (RI Red Cross, Sec 3, Padang), 1978 (Guard Of Honour, Police OCS, Padang)  and 1979 (Police Academy, Queenstown Stadium) parades.  It was very different then. There weren’t the goodie bags you see today, nor where there the musical extravaganza of today. Our contingents had a three to five kilometer route march after the march past and those were challenging to say the least. But we did it. I don’t have pictures of those days for all I have are memories.  I am sure we can get MediaCorp/SPH to open up their archives under a Creative Commons license and let people do wonders with it, Its part of who we are.

Majulah Singapura!

Getting a good grip on the haze conditions


I feel that with DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s speech this past Monday, June 17 2013, at the eGov Global Exchange event about the Singapore government going whole hog with 100% machine readable data on the data.gov.sg, was excellent. Finally, there is some sanity in government with regards to data (that has already been paid for by tax dollars) should be open and freely available.  No more discussion about “monetizing” the tax-payer-paid data. Let the public do as they please with the data.

So, it is with that as a background, that I want to see how best was can get the following done to address the haze conditions (as seen in the NASA satellite image) with the population that is at risk.

This is what we have in terms of data:

a) Data from the National Environment Agency regarding the Pollutant Standard Index and the PM2.5 values.

b) AirNow.gov US government site that gives a co-relation between the various data measurements

The NEA PSI data is only shown on the site for the current 24 hour period and nothing is shown of the previous days.  I don’t see any link on their site to look at earlier data. As such, I’ve set up a public document on Google Docs.

Now what I’d like to see is the mashing up of the data with maps and other relevant information such as construction sites where there are workers outdoors and to see how quickly we can pull in the right resources to assist.  There is already an effort underway  (also geek.sg) to make sure that those populations at risk because of lack of information and/or safety equipment like N95 masks are reached and provided for.

[Update at 7:25 pm June 22, 2013]

Looks like the NEA site is transforming in a good way.  You can get historical data now.

Proceedings from the “The Singapore Computer Society’s Internet Regulations Workshop” – August 1996


I used to head up the Internet SIG of the Singapore Computer Society back in the 1990s. When the then Singapore Broadcasting Authority (now known as the Media Development Authority) issued a directive that they will require all ISPs to filter access to websites, my SIG sprang into action and organized a workshop at which we invited the SBA rep and interested members of SCS as well as the public to discuss the issues.

I had posted the proceedings of the session on my personal website when at that time was hosted on Pacific Internet (home.pacific.net.sg/~harish). But today that is all gone and I am using this blog to host it for posterity:


Singapore Computer Society’s Internet Regulations Workshop

The ProceedingsCopyright 1996 Singapore Computer Society


Saturday August 17th 1996 0930-1200 NCB Auditorium

      Present:

 

Ms Ling Pek Ling, Director (Policy and Planning), SBA

Mr Lim Kien Thye, Legal Adviser, Singapore Computer Society

Mr Andrew Sansom, Vice President, SCS (moderator)

The workshop started with a welcome by the moderator who introduced the two panelists and the agenda of this workshop.

Ms Ling started off first by introducing the SBA regulations as was spelt out by the SBA press release and the subsequent gazette notification.

Mr Lim then went through the regulations in finer explaining the various clauses and their implications and interpretations.

Following the tea-break, Lim continued with some clarifications on issues raised during the break. Specifically, the issue in Section 13 of the Conditions of Class License was revisited. Mr Lim said, before the break, that geomancy et al as mentioned in that section are illegal on the net. A member of the audience had pointed out to him that in fact, Section 13 mentions the outlawing of this only for services defined in Paragraph 3(a) to (e), eg audiotext and videotext services of the Notification and this excludes the Internet. Lim was of the opinion that it is a little difficult to totally delineate the Internet from this category. SBA clarified that while Sec 13 did not apply to Internet Service Providers and Internet Content Providers, they were subject to the requirement to comply with the laws of Singapore.

The much awaited question and answer session ensued thereafter.

[Ed Note: Most of the answers were from the SBA. Where it is not, the speaker is identified.]

Q1: If a web site is maintained OUTSIDE Singapore but the contents are political in nature with the editors residing in Singapore, must that site register?

A1: Yes.

Q2: Even if the site is NOT of a political party?

A2: Yes, if it falls in the list of other categories which need to register with SBA. [These categories are spelt out in the class licence gazette, a copy of which is available on SBA’s web-page at www.gov.sg/sba.]

Q3: If a Singaporean machine discusses, say, Indonesian politics, it is OK not to register?

A3: The registration requirement for political groups applies only to political parties registered in Singapore and groups discussing political issues relating to Singapore.

Q4: But if it discusses Singapore politics it must be registered?

A4: Yes.

Q5: Do you think the Wall Street Journal will care to register if you were to ask them to because some of their subscribers are resident in Singapore?

A5: We have a good working relationship with the WSJ and do not see that as being a problem.

Comment: I think the WSJ would not bother.

Q6: Can you please tell me why you included geomancy, astrology, palmistry and fortune-telling in the list of banned activities?

A6a: [Lim KT] Well technically, fortune-telling, palmistry and geomancy are on our statutes as “banned” activities.

A6b: But, KT, you and I (Harish Pillay) were in the police force doing NS many years ago, and you know very well that there are many things that are illegal (for example the burning of joss paper in public), but we close an eye and let it pass. We have been doing so with these things anyway, then why bring it back?

A6c: Well, the SBA regulations do not preempt other laws of Singapore and the inclusion here is merely to re-iterate the laws.

Q7: So, can I take it that we will not see anymore palmistry, astrology, geomancy and fortune-telling books in Times and MPH?

A7: Well those are not illegal. The SBA regulations focus on broadcast media, which are more pervasive – we want to make sure that people are not cheated by confidence tricksters under the pretext of telling fortunes etc.

Q8: Do you know that the SPH in it’s audiotext service, it is providing fengshui, astrology and horoscopes? How come, in spite of you listing audiotext services as one that must not promote these, you are allowing SPH to do so?

A8: We are in discussion with the SPH on what the acceptable limits are.

[Clarification: SPH is allowed to carry horoscopes. It does not offer astrology services.]

[Ed’s clarification – at last check, August 20th, SPH’s 1-900 service provides fengshui (Chinese geomancy) services.]

Q9: Will you tell us the public what arrangements you have made with SPH to allow this?

A9:We have given some guidelines on what the acceptable limits are in the phrasing of Condition 13(c), namely “ensure that its service is not used to advertise, provide or otherwise promote-

(i) astrology, geomancy, palmistry; or

(ii) any other type of fortune-telling device

Content or service providers who need further clarification can check with SBA.

[SBA has a feedback channel on its web-page at www.gov.sg/sba.]

Q10: You say that I cannot put up banned audio/video on web pages. Does that mean that my .wav files are illegal now? Is there a publically available list of banned movies/songs?

A10: Those come under the Undesirable Publications Act and you can get the information from the Ministry of Information and the Arts.

Q11: In your Internet Code of Practice, you mention fines. I have never known a Code of Practice that carried fines. How much is the fine?

A11: Sec 24 of the SBA Act provides for SBA to impose fines, suspend or cancel the licence of a provider in the event of a breach of licence conditions. The Code of Practice gives some guidelines on the types of content that should not be carried. As one of the class licence conditions (Condition 11) is that licensees should comply with the Code of Practice, breach of this Code would constitute a breach of licence conditions.

Q12: Who can I appeal to?

A12: You can appeal to SBA. SBA will refer grey cases to the National Internet Advisory Committee. You can appeal to the Minister if you are not satisfied with SBA’s decision.

Q13: When will the NIAC be formed/announced? You did announce the SBA regulations in a hurry, out on a Thursday and enforced on a Monday.

A13: Sooner than you think.

Q14: In the Code of Practice you say that there should not be anything that satirises or denigrates any race or religious group. So, will you now force the ISP to drop rec.humor.funny because it has racial jokes? Are Jewish, Irish, Chinese, Indian, Malay jokes illegal now?

A14a: We will go by what is acceptable to our community and focus attention on areas which upset the racial and religious harmony of our society.

A14b: [Lim KT] The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act 1990 provides for a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony which would advise on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony in Singapore.

Q15: Since we do not have any sizeable Singaporean Jewish community, will you say that Jewish jokes are OK and not others?

A15: Again you have to refer to the Religious Harmony Act.

Q16: You say that promiscuity and permissiveness must not be promoted and yet allow Beverly Hills 123456 to be aired on local TV. If that is not promiscuity and permissiveness, then what is?

A16: It’s all a matter of degree. Even on TV, there is a family view hour of 9.30 pm. Shows aired before that hour have to comply with stricter standards.

Q17: If I run a site that has a bunch of people editing and maintaining the site with some of the editors physically outside Singapore, do I have to register that site because it could contain political discussions about Singapore?

A17: Yes, if it falls within the list of groups which need to register with SBA.

Q18: What kind of liability do the editors have?

A18: They are responsible for the contents as they have editorial privilege.

Q19: What about mirror sites mirrored in Singapore? And it contains political discussions but I do not have editorial rights?

A19: If the SBA thinks that the material in the mirror is not acceptable, it has to be removed.

Q20: Proxy servers for leased line customers. I have clients who have leased lines and use the net link to do Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and other business transactions. Now they want to go away from Singapore because of your rules. They have confidential information that cannot be put on a proxy server.

A20: The requirement for the use of proxy servers does not apply to customers who use it only for company use. Organizations such as cybercafes, libraries, community centers have to go the proxy servers as they are providing Internet to the public.

Q21: Let me understand this. I look after the schools. Schools have leased lines to the Net and so, if leased lines users are exempt, schools are exempt also?

A21: The exclusion is not for all leased line users per se. It is for corporate (private) communications. The primary audience of the schools are the students, which count as members of the public, and so they have to use the proxy.

Q22: But what about the teachers who have machines on their desks and no student will use it?

A22: The aim is to for the links to be used by the students and so the proxy must be used, even if student access is supervised by teachers.

Q23: When will you announce this non-use of the proxy server?

A23: Soon.

Q24: How soon? Some of the ISPs are sending out information to leased line customers informing them of this rule.

A24: Sooner than you think.

Q25: There is one group that is exempt from the regulations – those who provide access incidental to their business. Can you elaborate?

A25: If a hairdresser provides net access while cutting the hair of the client, the net access in that business is incidental and not primary. This is unlike the case of a cybercafe, where it would be difficult for the operator to claim that providing net access was not a primary part of its business.

Q26: Will you release the black list of web sites to the public?

A26: No, we want to keep it confidential and want to be conservative.

Q27: Why not? I can get a list of banned books, movies, tapes, magazines etc. How come you are so secretive about the black list?

Comment: The black list could become a hot list (laughter).

A27: The books and magazines that are banned are made known because people can buy then overseas and so they need to know what is not allowed. In the case of the Net, only the ISPs need to know as they are the ones making access available.

Q28: So, let’s consider this. I spend a weekend cruising the web. I come across a bunch of sites that are blocked off to me – I know this because of the message on the screen. I write them down. I then pass the information to others and collectively we build up a list and then I post it to my home page. Is that OK?

A28: No, you are in violation of these guidelines.

Q29: Why, where and how?

A29: You should not put the information out on the web.

Q30: So if I e-mail it to a friend outside Singapore and he posts it, will you block the information?

A30: The site is in violation.

Q31: When does an article or web page become “illegal”? When it is being created using an editor, or uploaded to server but not hyperlinked or when it is on the web?

A31: [Lim KT] The issue of when material becomes content is a grey one which lawyers are still grappling with.

Q32: I am a software developer. I depend on my customers to use my software to develop content on the Internet. Currently you are specifically mentioning WWW services. Will you in the future say that a particular service is not legal?

A32: As a software developer, you should not feel constrained as the primary responsibility lies with the content developers who use your software. We encourage software development in Singapore and want to emphasise the light touch nature of our licence scheme. We would also like to hear from you if you think the regulations are hindering your business operations. SBA is keen to have close consultation with the industry.

Q33: Further to that I asked if in future such “consultations” with the “Industry”, should they be minuted, be placed in the SBA web site for public access?

A33: We will look into the feasibility of this.

Q34: The Internet Regulations specifically define Internet Content Provider to be:

      – any individual who provides any programme, for business, political or religious purposes, on the World Wide Web through the Internet; or

– any corporation or group of individuals (including any association, business, club, company, society, organisation or partnership, whether registrable or incorporated under the laws of Singapore or not) who provides any programme on the World Wide Web through the Internet, and includes any Web publisher and any Web server administrator.

This definition excludes other Internet services such as the Gopher and the IRC services. Does this mean that the above definition excludes the Gopher and the IRC services? What about other emerging Internet technologies?

A34: We will continue to refine the Internet Regulations to incorporate emerging Internet technologies when these have mass public impact.

Q35: What about Intranets?

A35: Intranets are NOT under the jurisdiction of the SBA.

Q36: What about an Intranet of say a club – say the Turf Club. And they want to use their computer network to place bets and do gambling?

A36: As long as they have the license to do so by other relevant government authorities, this should not be a problem.

Q37: What would you define as obscene? I have to manage a design school where there are creative people who would ask me why a particular site is blocked when in their opinion it is not obscene.

A37: SBA will refer grey areas to the National Internet Advisory Committee.

Q38: If my site has a link to another who may have links to objectionable sites, am I liable?

A38: You will not be, provided you did put the link in good faith and did not know of the subsequent links.

Q39: You say that financial information presented without commentary is exempted from the SBA regulations. What does that mean?

A39: The exemption covers raw information for example, the index closed high at 1234. To quote the Gazette, the exemption applies to “financial information services where the financial information is transmitted without commentary and without alteration or addition to its form.”

Q40: You say that the Internet Advisory Committee will be formed soon. What types of people will it have? Users or people from the govt?

A40: It will constitute a broad cross-section of people to represent the users of the Internet and will include relative light users as well as members of the industry.

Q41: When the committee decides on something and the decision is not what the SBA or the Minister hoped for, the SBA and the Minister is NOT bound to accept the decision, right? After all it is only an advisory committee.

A41: Yes. But, we will take into consideration all the viewpoints carefully before deciding.

Q42: We all know of this abomination called “Mr. Kiasu”. Now, I belong to a running group which enjoys lewd and naughty jokes and one us wanted to create an e-mailing list to share it with the rest. He approached one of the ISPs who, erring on the side of kiasuism, wanted him to sign a document that effectively disallowed anything like what we wanted. Don’t you think your rules will breed more self-censors – mind you, this was before your rules came about? I now run the mailing list out of my laptop.

A42:No, as long as they are following the guidelines.


Updated August 20th 1996
This page was compiled, edited and posted by Harish Pillay, Internet SIG Chair with the help of four other participants from the audience and the SBA panelist, Ms Ling.

You may quote from this page for commentary purposes, newsgroup postings and so on, but we ask you to please include the URL – http://www.scs.org.sg/sbaworkshop.html – in your quotes.

 

The Town Council IT System Tender


[This was originally written on March 26, 2013, but kept as a draft giving the powers that be time to revert. Looks like nothing is moving for a country that prides itself on efficiency and fairplay, the AIM saga which has deep links into the ruling party is proving to be a hot potato. The tender has been awarded to the team led by NEC Singapore. No indication that any of this is open source software.]

I thought I should post it now so that there will be transparency in this affair.

The tender for the town council IT system was released on February 4th. I did try to get the tender documents but failed.

Here’s the email flow – minus the recipient info:

1. Feb 26, 2013

Subject: Town Council Management System tender docs

Hi.  I refer to the tender that was called for a new IT system for managing the town council.  I can’t seem to find the document on your website (nor on GeBiz).  Can you please point me to where it is?

Thanks.

2. Feb 26, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

Kindly contact me regarding your enquiries.

3. Feb 26, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
>
> Kindly contact me regarding your enquiries.

Thanks for the reply as well as speaking on the phone earlier.  It is a pity that I can’t participate even though the date is not due yet.

Thanks.

4. Feb 27, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

As mentioned, the tender is advertised in The Straits Times and Zaobao on 4 Feb 2013.

Interested and eligible tenderers are to attend the tender briefing on 7 Feb 2013 before they are allowed to purchase the tender documents.

Thanks.

5. Feb 27, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
>
> As mentioned, the tender is advertised in The Straits Times and Zaobao on 4 Feb 2013.
>
> Interested and eligible tenderers are to attend the tender briefing on 7 Feb 2013 before they are allowed to purchase the tender documents.

Thanks for the confirmation.  I find it strange that even the tender docs are not on GeBiz.  Any reason why there is an exception?

Thanks.

6. Feb 28, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

We are not a government agency and as such we are ineligible to participate in the Gebiz.

7. Feb 28, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
>
> We are not a government agency and as such we are ineligible to participate in the Gebiz.

Thanks for the clarification.

8.  Mar 20, 2013

[Person at town council] –

Hi.  I am writing to you to find out if there has been any submissions to the tender that closed earlier this month.  I’d appreciate if you can tell me who they are and when do you expect the tender to be awarded.

Thanks.

9. Mar 22, 2013

Dear Mr Harish Pillay

The provisional tender result is posted on our Town Council website “http://www.btptc.org.sg/“.

Progress on tenders currently under evaluation cannot be disclosed.

10. Mar 22, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Dear Mr Harish Pillay
>
> The provisional tender result is posted on our Town Council website “http://www.btptc.org.sg/“.

Thank you.  I assume this is the page: http://www.btptc.org.sg/Tender/0106/A-161.htm

> Progress on tenders currently under evaluation cannot be disclosed.

Certainly.  Is there a way to get a copy of the tender specs to understand what the 3 options are?
Thanks again.

11. Mar 22, 2013

Dear Harish Pillay

Only the eligible tenderers who have attended the tender briefing are allowed to collect the tender documents.

Regards

12. Mar 22, 2013

[Person at town council] –

> Only the eligible tenderers who have attended the tender briefing are allowed to collect the tender documents.

Yes, I understand that. You did indicate that in an earlier email.  But since the tender has been submitted, I am wondering if the document is available, even at a price.

13. Mar 22, 2013

Dear Harish Pillay

The tender documents can only be purchased by the eligible tenderers who have attended the tender briefing.

So, you can see that unless you attended the briefing, you cannot get to the tender documents. I would need to reach out to those who have submitted the tenders to get to the document. Why would this be made so difficult to be acquired? What’s the secret in those documents?

Town Councils exist by virtue of the Town Council Act Chapter 329A. We know the reasons for creating town councils but from the citizen’s perspective the town council is part of municipal government as suggested by former PM Goh Chok Tong:

So in a way, the MPs became the elected representatives of this municipal aspect of government. But more importantly, we also believed in the devolution of powers downwards. This is to give a stake, first, to the MPs, then next to the grassroots leaders, and of course, very importantly, to the residents. This is your Town Council.

So, I think in the email exchange above, the person from the town council is totally wrong to say that they are not a government agency.

The current PM has called for a review of the town council is a good thing as the unstated objectives (“let’s make it difficult to let non-PAP parties win GRCs”) has now gone away.

Talking about the review of of the AIM fiasco, the PM gave the MND two months from January 8. It is now almost end of March 2013 May and thus far nothing has surfaced.

Since there is supposed to be a review of the AIM transaction, is it still appropriate for the 14 PAP run town councils to call for a tender to “replace” the system they already have? Or should it be held off until the review is done. The answer is quite clear.

Switching gears, let’s look at the tender submission result.

Option 1            Option 2               Option 3      Alternative Option

1. NEC Asia Pacific Pte Ltd           –                         –                $17,610,820.00          –

2. HCL Singapore Pte Ltd        $27,549,208.46   $21,063,955.09             –                     –

3. NCS Pte Ltd                             –                         –                $31,485,192.00     $16,798,500.00

Option 1: Ownership model (hardware is decentralized)
Option 2: Software ownership model, hardware service model (hardware is centralized)
Option 3: Software and hardware service model (hardware is centralized)
Alternative: Decentralized solution for 3 years of contract period

On April 2nd, it was announced that the tender was awarded to NEC Singapore. For a lot of money – $16.8 million dollars to be exact. No mention of anything in this being open source, no git repository nothing. No indication of the poison pill clause “if there is a change in the boundaries or management of town councils, the application stops working” etc.

The PM asked for a review of the AIM scandal. Today, May 1st, there is still no sign of it. How long does it take the MND to do the work? I volunteer to do this due diligence. I am sure they will not take this offer, even though it is given in good faith.

Rest in peace, my friend!


It’s a tough day today.  Got into office and heard that a colleague passed away.

He killed himself.

He killed his only child, his daughter before killing himself.

He lost his wife a few years ago to illness.

I feel upset. I did not see this coming. He was always jovial, friendly, and an overall nice person. Heck, he even joined me on a hash run.

But today, he is gone.

Is there anything I could have done? He never seemed moody or reserved. Always smiling, always friendly.

Goodbye Arvind.

Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) aka Selling Out To Big Business talks in Singapore this week


I was very surprised to see two items that appeared right next to each other in the Straits Times on Monday, March 4, 2013. One was the story headlined “S’pore hosts Asia-Pacific free-trade talks” and the other an advertisement put out by an organization that I did not know existed called “Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance”.

tpp-singapore-talks-march4-2013

(page 2, Straits Times Monday March 4, 2013)

anti-tpp-ad-march-4-2013

 

I applaud the SEATCA advertisement but I am sure that there are other even more pressing issues that the TPP will be working on that will have significant implications for all of us in the computing, media and related industries.

The article’s headline is misleading to suggest that it is a “free-trade” talks. It is more of how much can Big Business restrict people with extended copyright, patent and other money grabbing tricks.

Tender for Town Council Management System – updates


Looks like the PAP-run town councils have put out a call for tender on February 4th with an advertisement in the morning newsletter.

towncouncil-it-tender-notice

 

As can be seen in the ad, there was a briefing that needed to be attended by interested parties that was held on February 7, which happens to be a couple of days before the Lunar New Year holidays. While that is not a big deal, the chances of people missing out on attending this briefing is pretty high given the long weekend that came after that.

Notwithstanding that, it is important to note that if you did not attend the briefing, you cannot get to the actual tender documents even if you choose to pay the $107 for the documents. The tender does ask for the interested parties to be of the EPU/CMP/10 class. If that is the type of entities that are minimally needed, this is a really big project. If it is a big project, then why are the documents not found on the GeBIZ site? The GeBIZ site says that:

“GeBIZ is the Singapore government’s one-stop e-procurement portal. All the public sector’s invitations for quotations and tenders are posted on GeBIZ. Suppliers can search for government procurement opportunities, download tender documents, and submit their bids online. GeBIZ allows any supplier to access public sector business opportunities anywhere and anytime with just an Internet connection.”

Of course, if someone can actually find the tender docs on the GeBIZ, I stand corrected.

I would want to know a few things about the new system that is being requested:

a) Is the project going to be built using open source tools and applications?

b) Will the code of the application be made publicly downloadable once it is done – since it was paid for by tax dollars?

c) Can open source developers take part in this?

The tender closes on March 4 and I look forward to knowing the results.

It’s not about *taxing* anyone


By and large, Singaporeans accept the value and import of National Service. Yes, there are genuine situations where things can be done better with far less waste, but as a whole, the long-term benefits of National Service to the citizen, family and country is not in dispute.

The nature of National Service does involve in a big way, the sacrifice of personal time and energy of every able-bodied male 18-year-old for a period of two years. It used to be either two or two-and-a-half years when I did my NS, but it has now been made uniform to just two years. It can be argued whether the length of service should be made even shorter, but that is for another post.

Over the years, we have had a steady inflow of people who took up permanent residency and as the rules go, the children of these PRs (who themselves can become PRs, albeit second generation PRs) are then obligated to do National Service just as any citizen.

That’s the nub of the issue. I know of a couple who moved to Singapore and became PRs and started a family. Because they were PRs, they could buy HDB housing and as luck would have it for them, their block underwent a HDB redevelopment exercise that then resulted in that family getting a brand new HDB unit. That is all well and good. They, even as PRs benefited from the system.

The twist in the story is when their sons (second generation PRs) were due for enlistment, the couple managed to snag some immigration opportunity and moved off to Canada. They then cashed out the HDB apartment, made a killing and now are PRs in Canada and their sons managed to get out of their obligations to do National Service.

We can look at this story (all true, btw) and be disappointed, or look at it positively as they came to this country and worked the system and with all the unintended loop holes, they have benefited immensely.

Where does that leave, We, The Citizens? I too would like the financial windfall and perhaps have my sons not do their National Service as well, but I am not asking for that.

It is therefore, amusing, to read the suggestion by PAP MP Hri Kumar Nair who suggests a “national defense duty” (NDD) be imposed on all PRs and foreigners living in Singapore.

This from the ruling party MP whose party’s modus operandi in solving issues it to tax things (COE, Road Tax, GST etc).

On the surface, his proposal *might* sound plausible. But there are two significant flaws in it.

Firstly, the NDD cheapens the sweat, blood and economic sacrifice Singaporeans (not only the men, but their families as well) make in doing their National Service and reservist duties. “If you can’t do the work, just pay your way out” seems to be the his rationale. It suggests that we have to tax others (labelling it “duty” is hiding the truth) as a form of imposed misery. Do we have to make our neighbours to be poor(er) in order for us to succeed?

The people who come to our shores came here to make a living for themselves and to be economically active. They do pay taxes like the rest of us. If the government wants to really do the Right Thing, they should have the NS Tax Relief not be a deductible BEFORE tax, but an offset after tax assessment.

I recall doing the NS Tax Relief some years ago and found that since it is a tax relief, the real impact in including the NS Tax Relief and not made very little difference (like less than $20) in the taxable income, at least for me. So, while the NS Tax Relief looks nice on the surface and while might be a sincere attempt, it was not what one would have thought it was.

So, Mr MP, no need to place an extra tax. Do the simple change in the NS Tax Relief and you’ve got a reasonable step forward.

A second flaw in the MP’s proposal is that in the event of a crisis, it is us Singaporeans who would have to stand up and defend, not those who paid “NDD”.  They can just as well leave Singapore and return when things are OK. See the difference? Just because they’ve been NDDed, it does not mean that they’ll be picking up anything to help defend. I am sure you are not that naive, or are you Mr MP?

Walk the Talk!


“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” – Albert Einstein

It is a mockery of the Parliamentary process when a Member of Parliament fails to exercise her right to vote on issues that have come up for  consideration.  Whether or not there exists the anti-democratic “party whip”, as an elected MP, I expect the person to have the gumption and the conscience to vote according to what the person says.

Here is an extract (page 40) from the “Standing Orders of the Parliament of Singapore” (it’s a PDF) (the bold emphasis is mine):

VOTING IN PARLIAMENT OR A COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE PARLIAMENT

Collection of voices
62. – (1) When the Speaker or Chairman has put the question at the conclusion of a debate, he shall collect the voices of the “Ayes’’ and “Noes’’ and provided that no Member then claims a division, shall declare the result in accordance with the provisions of the law(13).

(2) A Member may, instead of claiming a division, inform the Speaker or Chairman that he wishes his dissent to be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and the Official Report and his dissent shall be so recorded.

Procedure on divisions

63. – (1) No division shall be taken unless at least five Members rise in their places in support of it.

(2) When a division is to be proceeded with, the Speaker or the Chairman shall direct that the division bells shall be rung. After the lapse of at least one minute, the Speaker or the Chairman shall direct that the doors be locked and the Serjeant at Arms shall thereupon cause the doors to be locked.

(3) Thereafter the Speaker or Chairman shall put the question a second time and if a division is again claimed, a division shall be taken in a manner to be decided by the Speaker and the Clerk shall enter on the Votes and Proceedings a record of each Member’s vote and of the names of Members who abstain from voting.

(4) At a division a Member shall vote for the “Ayes’’ or for the “Noes’’, or expressly indicate that he abstains from voting. A Member shall not vote in a manner inconsistent with any opinion which he may have expressed when the voices were taken collectively.

(5) A Member may vote in a division although he did not hear the question put.

(6) When the votes have been collected, the Speaker or Chairman shall state the numbers voting for the “Ayes’’ and for the “Noes’’ respectively, and shall then declare the result of the division, whereupon the Serjeant at Arms shall cause the doors to be unlocked.

(7) If, from the number of Members taking part in a division, including those Members who abstain from voting, it appears that a quorum is not present, the division shall be invalid, the business then under consideration shall stand over until the next sitting and the next business shall be entered upon.

So, from the line above, 63-4: “A Member shall not vote in a manner inconsistent with any opinion which he may have expressed when the voices were taken collectively“, very simply states that one has walk the talk.

Therefore, it is extremely disappointing that MP Inderjit Singh, after making a passionate speech that clearly was critical of the Population White Paper, managed not to vote when the division was called. If Mr Singh did walk the talk, he should have at the minimum, abstained from the vote. I am sure that his abstention would have brought the wrath of his party and his party’s whip, but by not voting, he has has clearly shown that he is not able to walk the talk. That is a huge mistake on the part of Mr Singh.

Here’s a cartoon that caricatures this disappointment.

This is too cool!


[harish@phoenix ~]$ traceroute 216.81.59.173
traceroute to 216.81.59.173 (216.81.59.173), 30 hops max, 60 byte packets
 1 registerlafonera.fon.com (192.168.10.1) 2.473 ms 2.937 ms 3.902 ms
 2 cm1.zeta224.maxonline.com.sg (116.87.224.1) 15.342 ms 15.664 ms 16.515 ms
 3 172.20.53.17 (172.20.53.17) 17.175 ms 17.540 ms 18.104 ms
 4 172.26.53.1 (172.26.53.1) 18.865 ms 20.381 ms 20.813 ms
 5 172.20.7.30 (172.20.7.30) 24.398 ms 24.337 ms 24.227 ms
 6 203.117.35.45 (203.117.35.45) 28.237 ms 17.013 ms 16.335 ms
 7 203.117.34.37 (203.117.34.37) 15.227 ms 21.645 ms 21.858 ms
 8 203.117.34.198 (203.117.34.198) 20.962 ms 21.042 ms 20.766 ms
 9 203.117.36.38 (203.117.36.38) 21.584 ms 22.500 ms 22.639 ms
10 paix.he.net (198.32.176.20) 213.814 ms 214.532 ms 216.222 ms
11 10gigabitethernet9-3.core1.sjc2.he.net (72.52.92.70) 209.283 ms 209.811 ms 206.368 ms
12 10gigabitethernet5-3.core1.lax2.he.net (184.105.213.5) 197.110 ms 199.926 ms 203.206 ms
13 10gigabitethernet2-3.core1.phx2.he.net (184.105.222.85) 231.479 ms 234.769 ms 234.712 ms
14 10gigabitethernet5-3.core1.dal1.he.net (184.105.222.78) 246.268 ms 246.252 ms 246.026 ms
15 10gigabitethernet5-4.core1.atl1.he.net (184.105.213.114) 273.176 ms 273.562 ms 273.933 ms
16 216.66.0.26 (216.66.0.26) 257.073 ms 257.860 ms 258.197 ms
17 * * *
18 Episode.IV (206.214.251.1) 279.888 ms 277.874 ms 280.236 ms
19 A.NEW.HOPE (206.214.251.6) 285.736 ms 284.384 ms 285.730 ms
20 It.is.a.period.of.civil.war (206.214.251.9) 291.342 ms 293.745 ms 293.975 ms
21 Rebel.spaceships (206.214.251.14) 295.027 ms 300.389 ms 300.605 ms
22 striking.from.a.hidden.base (206.214.251.17) 300.050 ms 300.106 ms 299.865 ms
23 have.won.their.first.victory (206.214.251.22) 284.885 ms 291.515 ms 293.083 ms
24 against.the.evil.Galactic.Empire (206.214.251.25) 282.759 ms 280.749 ms 280.269 ms
25 During.the.battle (206.214.251.30) 301.951 ms 300.714 ms 297.183 ms
26 Rebel.spies.managed (206.214.251.33) 306.370 ms * *
27 * to.steal.secret.plans (206.214.251.38) 304.887 ms 301.879 ms
28 to.the.Empires.ultimate.weapon (206.214.251.41) 292.549 ms 290.469 ms 291.832 ms
29 the.DEATH.STAR (206.214.251.46) 290.021 ms 281.892 ms 280.153 ms
30 an.armored.space.station (206.214.251.49) 283.677 ms 295.996 ms 285.008 ms
[harish@phoenix ~]$

Good stuff, Episode IV.

“practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”


I just love the heading of this post.  It is from John Maynard Keynes who wrote it in his The General Theory (New York, Harcourt Brace and World, 1964), p. 383.  I was prompted to check it out when the quote was used in the opening of a post by members of the Economic Society of Singapore about the white paper on population that was passed by the Singapore Parliament on Feb 8 2013.

I think the post sufficiently debunks the myths propagated by the white paper and I hope that the government will be bold enough to take into consideration and not brush it off.

Please do read that post – https://www.evernote.com/shard/s1/sh/d85ef79d-0582-4c59-992a-1e8ecbc22359/eedb54998c8619cc3613d4c30c85afd3 – it is worth your time.

And “Parliament Passes Motion …”


Before my comment, I found this picture on a walled garden site and thought I should share it here:

12028_10151715177841562_1427529642_n

How appropriate the headline is and the accompanying photo. I can’t find where this appeared and would appreciate all help to find it – I want to give credit where it is due.

It is not surprising at all that the parliament rubber-stamped the Population White Paper.

We have a total of 99 MPs in the Parliament. Doing the math:

  • Nominated Members of Parliament: 9
  • Non Constituency Members of Parliament: 3 (2 from WP, 1 from SPP)
  • Elected Members: 87 of which 7 are from the Worker’s Party and 80 from the People’s Action Party

So, if there were 77 yes (all PAP rubber stampers), who were the 3 from the PAP who did not vote?

Why is the Parliament website not updated immediately (and no live webcast of parliamentary proceedings as well – maybe the fiber link is not ready :-))? I want to know the voting record of all MPs. Am I asking for something hard to get?

The votes were 77 for (all PAP MPs), 13 against (7 WP MPs, 2 WP NCMPs, 1 SPP NCMP, 3 NMPs), 1 NMP abstaining bringing it to 91 which means we have 8 who did not turn up in parliament and so did not vote. The 8 would be 5 NMPs and 3 PAP MPs.

My guess is that the 3 PAP MPs who did not vote are Inderjit Singh (and I can’t tell for sure), LKY and one other. If it was indeed Inderjit who did not vote, then I am very, very disappointed. For all the passion he showed in his speech – which I happily carried on my blog, it would most unfortunate if he did not actually vote. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if he did show up and voted YES because while he could have been given the freedom to make the statements he made, he would have been told that the party whip will be enforced, thereby forcing him to vote along party lines. So much for standing up to your convictions and that of your constituents.

I am guessing that LKY was absent as well. I am told that he is in hospital and has been there for a while now; and the local MSM has been embargoing the news. Probably explains why he did not show up at all at the Punggol East by-elections.

All things considered, so long as there is the existence of a party whip, the parliament cannot be a democracy and I was under that illusion all along. 

Please, Clerk of Parliament, update your website immediately. This is 2013 already. An informed citizenry is a valuable asset and don’t squander that.

Update, February 9 2013 0948 hrs: According to the following tweet from Inderjit (via MrBrown), he did not vote. Not voting generally means being absent from the parliament. That’s a clever move as he will not be sanctioned by the PAP whip if he voted against and not by Singaporeans if he did. But, frankly, Mr Singh, this is a cop out. Not sure why you did not vote, Mr Singh, but I hope you will be able to stand up to your convictions and be able to look back to this without regrets. As Russell Peters says, “be a man”.

Finally, a PAP MP making a considered and sane proposal


I am really glad to read the speech that PAP MP Inderjit Singh gave in Parliament about the Population White Paper.

Mr Singh, since I can’t find your speech anywhere else outside a walled garden, I hope you don’t mind me including it here as posted to your Facebook page.

Speech by Mr Inderjit Singh, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC

On the White Paper on Population

Madam Speaker, thank you for allowing me to join the debate on the White Paper on Population.

While the report has some compelling arguments for the 6.9m population figure projected, we all know it is based mainly on economic considerations. Had we focused on things like building a cohesive nation with a strong national identity, the outcome would likely be very different.

I feel the time has come for us to find a better balance between economic growth and social cohesion and yes there will have to be tradeoffs of economic growth but I would rather trade some of these for a cohesive, united nation where people feel taken care of at home and are confident of their future. I am not saying we go for low or no growth. Instead I am willing to adjust my growth expectations for a more comfortable life for all Singaporeans. I am confident we will still be able to pursue respectable economic growth when companies and Singaporeans are faced with a situation of tightened labour availability by focusing on improving ourselves through productivity and higher value capabilities. Finland and other small nations have done, we can do it too.

Our past decade of rapid population growth has already created too many problems which need to be solved first before we take the next step. I call on the government to take a breather for five years, solve all the problems created by the past policies of rapid economic and population growth. We can safely say that we have failed to achieve the goal set by the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, of a Swiss standard of living for most Singaporeans, except for the higher income Singaporeans including foreigners who just recently decided to make Singapore their home. So I call for a breather in this quest of growing the population and focus on improving the lives of Singaporeans and achieve that promised Swiss Standard of living for most Singaporeans first before we plan our next growth trajectory.

Taking Care of the Singaporean Core
I have a big issue with the number of PRs and new citizens we are planning to add to our population. I don’t see the necessity to be as aggressive when the key consideration of the population growth is the economy. We have already added too many new citizens and PRs and need time for integration and social cohesion to happen. Looking at history, our population grew from around 2.4m in 1980 to 3m in 1990 and then to 4m in 2000, reaching 5.3m last year. Just looking at the resident population alone, we grew the numbers from 2.3m in 1980 to 2.7m in 1990, 3.3m in the year 2000 and then to 3.8m last year. So in the last decade we added more than 1m to the resident population, and the in last 25 years, which is close to 1 generation of Singaporeans, we have added another close to 50% more to our resident population. I believe this must be the fastest rate of population growth in the world and I feel this is just too much for us to comfortably go back and build a national identity and social cohesion which was progressing very well till the 1990s. Adding another 500,000 to 800,000 more PRs and citizens as proposed by the white paper will be disastrous and add to our already difficult infrastructure and social problems.

If it is economic growth we want then let’s just adopt the Dubai model of a transient workforce which will give us a lot more flexibility to manage numbers in the longer term. On PRs, today we already have too many of them and they are enjoying full citizen privileges without the citizens’ responsibilities. For example;
– Far too many PR boys who skip NS when they turn 18. After enjoying the privileges they have a choice of not doing NS and then leave the country. I believe only around 30% of all PR boys do NS today. Well, our Singapore sons don’t have a choice but to do NS, it is an offence not to do it.
– PR children study at their International system schools sticking to their home cultures.
– PRs can buy HDB flats from the open market driving prices of HDB flats too high.

So I urge the government to reduce the number of projected new PRs and citizens just to the population replacement levels and be more selective and differentiate their privileges from citizens. I have a few suggestions for the government to consider;

• The government in the past couple of years has tried to draw the distinction between PRs and citizens by increasing school fees and healthcare fees for them. But I wonder would it not have been better to instead partially subsidize these same fees for Singapore citizens? So do it the other way round, reduce fees for Singaporeans not just increase for PRs.

• PR children must be made do national service – it should no longer be a choice and we should make it an offence if they don’t do it. We should not grant PRs to families who don’t commit their sons to National Service.

• HDB – if a PR buys a HDB flat from the open market, charge a levy of say $50k and allow them to sell only to Singaporeans. If the PR takes up citizenship within 5 years, we can refund the levy.

• Children of PRs should be made to study in our national schools so that we increase the chance of integrating them at the next generation.

• On the employment front, it is time we implement a Singaporean first hiring policy like what is done in some developed countries like Canada. Companies should show proof first that they were not able to fill a position with a Singaporean before they are allowed to hire a foreigner.

• Reconsider the dependents policy – I have come across a number of cases where our targeted one child from China brings in 2 parents who then bring 2 parents each as their dependents – Net is that we gain one young one child who we brought in for our future but also inherited 6 older people – making our ageing population issue worse not better.

I feel the differentiated privileges will separate the genuine ones from those who are here for a ride. We should grant PRs to those who are most likely going to take up citizenships so these differentiated privileges should not stifle our plans to attract quality PRs and new citizens.

This brings me to the point of how many Singaporeans are feeling about the presence of such huge numbers of new citizens, PRs and foreigners amongst our midst. First for housing – there is no doubt that the influx of foreigners in Singapore has driven up our property prices. PRs are buying HDB flats from the open market which drives up prices.

Just last week I had a dialogue session with my private estates residents and one of my residents complained that a new citizens recently bought a landed property in this old estate and was building a 3 and a half storey towering house. Well the, new citizen, the owner of the house was also present and when, I spoke with him during the tea session I found out that he was a new citizen formerly from China, just gained his citizenship and bought not 1 but 3 landed properties in Kebun Baru alone. I was surprised and saddened because many Singaporeans cannot afford to do the same, and this new citizen, no matter how he may have made his wealth is able to do so.

Many young Singaporeans I talk to, especially those who have recently graduated and have just entered the workforce feel demoralized because many of the things that they grew up aspiring to have are now beyond their reach. Our aggressive growth strategies, which allowed cheaper foreign workers, including professionals to easily gain employment passes degraded or depressed wage levels of many Singaporeans, not just the lower income Singaporeans. I remember when I started work in 1985, my salary was $1900 as an entry level engineer. After a few years I could afford a house and a car. Today, 28 years later, an entry level engineer in Singapore earns $2600, just $700 more than what I earned when I started. The mathematics is very simple, the cost of living did not just go up by 1.3% per annum the last 27 years and even more, the cost of owning a HDB flat is did not just go up by 37% since 1985.

Finally, I am perturbed by the banquet analogy used by Minister Khaw. We are talking about lives of Singaporeans. Our banquet guests come for one night and leave when the function is over. There is no turning back when we grant PR and citizenships. We must be more exact about the numbers we want to add to the Singapore population and not plan on a basis of ‘hoping we hit some number”. Because if overdo things and end up with a population of more than 7m, it may be too late to stop the fast moving train of population growth when we fire up all the engines of growing the population. We missed the mark the last 10 years, and are already paying a high price for that mistake.

In my speech in this house in 2008 during the committee of supply debate on the population I urged the government to abandon the “the instant tree mentality” in trying to grow the population in response to the declining birth rates. At that time, I did not agree with the rate of growth pursued and we know the consequences and the hardship Singaporeans faced as a result of the rapid growth, Instant trees cannot grow strong roots and can be uprooted in difficult times. I once again urge the government to slow down and plan on reaching their population target over a longer time horizon. I don’t think we can live with a 6.9m population in 2030. We may be able to handle it in 2050, no one really knows. Please abandon this ‘instant tree” mentality as we cannot afford to make Singaporeans lives more difficult as a result. I rather we err on the side of caution when it comes to growing our population. We cannot keep paying a high price for planning misjudgements.

In Conclusion, I would like to see us take a breather from re-growing our population again. We have too many problems as a result of the last breath taking population growth rate. As a government we need to rebuild the trust and confidence among Singaporeans that our citizens matter most to us and that we are willing take a break from our relentless drive for growth to solve their problems, make their lives more comfortable, give them a better quality of life and show them that any future growth of population will not create similar social and cost of living problems. At this stage many Singaporeans from all walks of life don’t have the confidence that we can handle another steep growth of the population, so let’s not push it. I would like all of us, including the government to spend the time creating and environment that gives us confidence in our future and one where our young can see a sense of hope of opportunity and if we fail to instil a sense of hope and opportunity for our future generations, we will not be able to root them here and build a strong national identity and a strong nation. This is what building a strong Singapore core should entail. So let’s delay all plans for further population growth for now.

“If there’s a war, why should we fight for Singapore?”


These two questions have been asked before and I am sure my two sons will ask them again:

  • “Do I have to do NS?”
  • “Is Singapore worth defending and dying for?”

My answer had been a resounding “Yes!”.

Today, February 5, 2013, I finally don’t have an affirmative answer for them.

I am finding it harder and harder to justify the “Yes!”.

Come 2030, they will be 30 and 33 years old. The country they will be living in, if they choose to continue to live in Singapore, is expected to have about 7 million people if the current ruling party has their way.

This is a target being set that they say is a “worst case scenario”. And this from a PAP-led cabinet who did not have foresight and whose leader has apologized not once, but twice.

While I am all for doing what is needed and what is right, I think the approach taken by the current PAP government in pushing for the Population White Paper (PWP) (a 41 pager) is very heavy-handed and executed in a dismal way.  DPM Teo CH is the man on the spot pushing for the adoption of the PWP in parliament, and, frankly, after failing to win the Punggol East by-election, has much lower credibility (he might lose in the 2016 general elections anyway). Does the PM not even recognize this? Do they not have a strategy in introducing policy directions, directions that can be divisive, especially after losing a seat?  PM Lee and DPM Teo were a former brigadier general and a rear-admiral respectively in the Singapore Armed Forces. Both of them never fought a war (the one with real blood – fortunately for Singapore) and come from the same group think environment of the SAF (with due apologies to those in the SAF who don’t suffer from that condition). The “group think” probably explains their collective lack of 20/20 vision as admitted by the PM.

The PWP is probably a well-meaning document – yes, I’ve read it and I do mean probably. It took me about three hours to go through it and understand it as much as I could. But I am not convinced. I got sidetracked when I read this in page 5:

Since March 2012, the Government has been actively seeking views from Singaporeans as part of
the preparations for this White Paper.

Many Singaporeans from different walks of life and age groups – including trade unionists, workers,
retirees, students, businessmen, professionals, women’s groups, overseas Singaporeans, civil
servants, bloggers, grassroots leaders, and academics – contributed their views in focus group
discussions and dialogue sessions. Singaporeans also wrote in through the http://www.population.sg
website and via e-mail.

Many others expressed their views or wrote articles about this important issue, through other
platforms and fora.

We thank everyone for your valuable contributions, which have helped to shape this White Paper.

I don’t recall anything like that being asked for. May be I missed the memo. May be I was not in the target audience that the PAP government wanted to hear from. And they wanted to hear from people who would tell them what they wanted to hear. I don’t know.

What I do know is that both the process by which they’ve come up with the conclusions and recommendations in the PWP are flawed.

Do I have an alternative? Yes. Let’s talk and discuss this calmly and with all the numbers and data that will help us collectively come to an action plan.  Lay it out for all to see and understand. Not the hand waving and the “I know better than you” attitude.

Perhaps we need a Temasek WikiLeaks drop box (my email ID is h dot pillay at ieee dot org).

Let’s get the raw data, arguments for and against that has been done with the cabinet and the related government agencies.

Talk to/with us not AT us. Remember, we Citizens are the masters and you, the Government is the servant, lest you forget.

I don’t know what to tell my sons now. I will still want them to serve their national service – this is their country and have obligations, but I don’t think I can answer the second question. They will have to figure it out for themselves.

It is probably useful to keep in mind that it is very likely that all of those in the current cabinet may not be in parliament when the island is chock-a-block in 2030. But because of their decisions made today, my sons and the children born in this century will be the ones hurting.

Release all the data – both for and against. Let’s use open source crowd sourcing techniques to reach a collective decision. Trust us to do the Right Thing for our country.

My country, right or wrong, if wrong to be set right and if right to be kept right.

Majulah Singapura!

In a word, wow!


I am not sure if this is a report that contains stuff taken out of context, but if its true that PM Lee thinks that his government did not have clarity in vision, what does that mean to all the justifications of paying sky-high wages to the “ministers” who were, after all, the ones who should have looked out for us?

I await back-peddling and clarifications before commenting on what appears to me an admission of failure.

While we are talking about failures, let me point a huge failure playing out in the Singapore civil service in the form of the fiasco called the  “Standard Operating Environment”. There is no one in the civil service that has anything positive to say about the fiasco that they have to be living with for the next umpteen years. The amount of tax dollars wasted and continued to be wasted because of the closed, proprietary software chosen is appalling. We need to stop it. Now!

Mr Prime Minister, I made an offer to help set up a Singapore Open Institute that will propel the Singapore public sector rapidly forward with the adoption and use of open source software and make it innovative and forward thinking. The offer still has not been taken up by you or your office.

Let’s make rapid changes and changes for the better. I look forward to hearing from you at h dot pillay at ieee dot org.

It was obvious to me


Congratulations to Ms Lee Li Lian in winning the Punggol East seat on January 26, 2013. With 16,038 from 29,832 votes cast, she commanded a lead that was not assailable by the incumbent party’s candidate Dr Koh.

As I alluded to in my post on January 24th, I had no doubt that the Worker’s Party would win. I was unsure of the margin and was expecting it to be narrower not the whopping 10.83%. It was obvious to me that the WP will win for it was clear in the Internet chatter via social media and engagements with fellow Singaporeans. The irony of it, to me, is that I don’t personally know of anyone living in that area and eligible to vote, so all my highly unscientific analysis was a combination of gut feel and reading of the Internet tea leaves! It could also be a result of almost 100% personal shut off of all MSM content and when I did come across it, viewing it skeptically and dismissing it in my mind as noise.

I am disappointed that the ruling party, at the press conference accepting the defeat, attributing the loss to “local issues” and that “we always knew it was going to be difficult”. That’s spinning the story without so much as answering the fundamental issues.

Here are some thoughts on why PAP failed spectacularly on January 26:

a) The area is a “new” HDB dominated town and the traditionally used carrot-and-stick approach of lift upgrading etc could not work so it was not even tried.

b) The vast majority of people living there came from other places and to parachute in Dr Koh and say that he is a “son of Punggol” is ludicrous. Dr Koh’s family moved away from Punggol when he was three years old and never returned. I am sure Dr Koh is very embarrassed by the PAP labelling as such. I am sure Dr Koh will be hard pressed to even find which part of Punggol East was his childhood home, if even it is in that precinct.  Lesson to PAP spin doctors: don’t craft things that might sound catchy; it can and will backfire.

c) Announcing that there will be a MRT extension to Punggol by 2030 smack in the middle of the campaigning is as stupid as stupid gets. These types of announcements of carrots should be disallowed during any election campaign period because of the simple reason that it will only favour the ruling party for they are the ones with the inside knowledge. This is very similar to insider trading and should carry same penalties.

d) What kinds of local issues are there to begin with? If we stretch the repair and renovation delays of the Rivervale Mall and label that as a local issue, then OK. But really? A mall undergoing repairs is an issue? Come on. Singaporeans are not daft, PAP campaign managers are.

The PAP only knows of campaign models from the 1960s and 70s. Because of the ugly walk-overs of the 70s-90s, there was no means to improve and adopt campaign models and so the PAP’s election machinery knew only one way to work.  The Internet-savvy and MSM-distrusting voter population of today is able to see right through the veil.  It does not help also that the so-called “PAP Internet Brigade” and “Fabrications about the PAP” who go around in social media and other sites and misbehave instead of engaging thoughtfully.

PAP lost because they’ve seriously diminished credibility. MP Teo Ho Pin shot himself in the foot, again, with another disappointing reply about the AIM scandal. Did he and the PAP really think that by responding that way, it will sway the opinion to their side? It would have been better for them not to have said a thing. But then again, this is the PAP, a party that knows no better. Perhaps Teo Chee Hean was right after all when he said “we knew it was going to be difficult”. His fumbling party members made it even more difficult.

So, what now for the prime minister and his severely diminished standing. A standing that has taken major beatings since 2011.

He led his party to a very narrow win the 2011 general elections with razor thin margins. In that process his party lost ministers all over the place – six of them if I am correct. And in that 2011 general election, their gerrymandering technique of the Group Representation Constituency backfired spectacularly when the Worker’s Party won the Aljunied GRC. That’s political bloodshed. The bloodshed did not cost the PM his job though. Any other normal political party would have seen a purge for failed leadership. Why did it not happen? Perhaps the politically correct thing to say is that the leadership is calcified and in very severe group think. Very few of the PAP cabinet are alternative thinkers and if they are, we have not seen anything. Perhaps the WP, in gathering the seats in parliament, will be able to form a shadow cabinet and offer thoughtful comments and engage. I think the WP will but it will take some time to bring in people.

Next was the presidential election where the PAP-endorsed candidate won the  presidency by a margin thinner than a razor’s edge, a gap of less than 0.5%.

And very quickly after that, the PAP fumbled again in not being able to make a dent at the  Hougang by-election.

And then last night’s Punggol East victory by the WP, capturing the seat that was PAP held until last December.

Much speculations center around the PAP splintering internally in the post-LKY world. The suggestions that there will emerge an ultra conservative religiously-based (Christian mostly) splinter, another that is far more accommodative and liberal with a technocrat bent and a third, smaller splinter that harks back to the early PAP days. What will prevail, who knows? Perhaps the PAP and LKY can do each other a favour and part ways NOW. Yes, that will trigger another by-election in Tanjong Pagar but the sooner the better instead of waiting till 2016 and feeling a bigger defeat.

The splintering notwithstanding, the PAP should eat humble pie and engage honestly with the citizens. The ongoing “Singapore Conversations” are good but insufficient in their attempts at reaching out. I have not attended any of those conversations yet and don’t personally know of any one who has. How about using IRC or Google Hangouts as well? I reckon they need control.

How about an “Honest Singapore Conversation” instead? Let’s start by publishing the following (in no particular order):

  1. Immigration statistics – lay it out and place it in data.gov.sg
  2. Public housing statistics – put it out in data.gov.sg
  3. What is the real standing of our reserves managed by Temasek and GIC; full disclosure of losses and investments – again, put it out in data.gov.sg
  4. Full and transparent detailing of all PAP-owned companies doing business with government especially given the AIM fiasco?
  5. What are we doing for the impending disaster of climate change?
  6. How much money have we spent on wasteful IT solutions in government and why is the government not the leading open source software user? And, you guessed it, put it out in data.gov.sg. I am also eagerly looking forward to opensource.gov.sg as well – my offer to help build an open source town council management solution notwithstanding.

We can do better, much better, Singapore.

Majulah Singapura.

The Value of Checks and Balances


The Punggol East by-elections will be on Saturday, January 26 2013.

Let’s look at the choices Punggol East residents have:

a) PAP’s candidate. I think the good doctor probably has his heart in the right place, but the reality of the game is that he is beholden to the party in all parliamentary votes. He cannot vote what his constituents want him to because of the arcane manifestation of the party whip. Why have someone who you *think* is representing you and your views, only to be told by his party whip that any vote will be decided by the party regardless of what the constituents say. That, to me, is reason number one not to vote in a PAP person – he can only rubber stamp stuff.

b) WP candidate: WP also has the party whip and I am sure if the WP formed the government, they would exercise it. But since they are not, I think they have the singular advantage that the PAP candidate does not have in that they can vote based on what their constituents want. Never mind that it is likely that the PAP will get its way anyway, but it will be recorded in the Hansard and can be used in a checklist on the legislative actions of the MP.

c) RP candidate: I am sure Kenneth will be able to out debate the PM and the cabinet (provided they are willing to be in a debate), but I think he should not have thrown his hat into the ring this time around. But since he has, it is probably a good opportunity to gain experience. In the 2011 general elections he stood in the West Coast GRC and since that’s where I get to vote, I voted for the Reform Party. Alas, they did not win. But that’s OK.

d) SDA candidate: I believe that Desmond is sincere in wanting to serve. I do believe that he had spent many years with Chiam See Tong in Potong Pasir and has a sense of what happens on the ground. But, like RP, I think SDA should not have participated this time around.

If we all agree that it is important to have checks and balances, the only way it can be achieved is to have appropriately contrarian voices and not yes men. Any one of the candidates from WP, RP and SDA can be that voice, but my money would be on the WP as they are a group that is building ever so carefully a team to be able to form a shadow cabinet and in the future to form the government.

Unlike other areas, the PAP cannot just bribe the Punggol East voters with promises of HDB upgrading even though they did pull that MRT extension information out of the bag to sweeten the deal.  We need an embargo of these announcements during an election campaign period as this is clearly an abuse of the incumbent’s power to information not otherwise available. Just as there is a cooling off period before polling day, there has to be a moratorium of announcements during the campaign period. Of course the PAP will not accept this suggestion for it did not come from them and it will work against them, but I am hoping that the WP can bring this up in Parliament.

So the decision is simple. PAP lost all credibility in the way they have dealt with the AIM issue and we need to get to the bottom of that and the best way to send a message to the ruling party is by sending in a WP candidate.

Lee Li Lian for the seat of Punggol East!

Don’t spoil your vote.

Majulah Singapura.

They don’t get it.


The Punggol East by-elections are underway with the polling happening on Saturday January 26, 2013. Today, January 22, at the Worker’s Party rally, the WP chairman, Ms Sylvia Lim, spoke about the AIM related issues. Interestingly, the PAP was quick to post a reply on their page.

What continues to amaze me is that the PAP and specifically the Coordinating Chairman *still* does not think that there is an issue, despite the PM (from the PAP no less) saying that he has ordered a review of the whole transaction.

Let’s look at the statement as posted:

By Teo Ho Pin

Tuesday, 22 Jan 2013

The following statement was issued by Dr Teo Ho Pin, the coordinating chairman of PAP town councils, in response to statements made by Ms Sylvia Lim of the Workers’ Party (WP).

Ms Sylvia Lim spoke about the AIM transaction in the WP rally tonight. I have already explained the circumstances behind the transaction. To reiterate, these are the facts:

a) AIM was awarded the contract after an open tender by PAP Town Councils, to centralise software to maintain the current IT system and help develop a new system

b) The transaction brought benefits and savings to the Town Councils. AIM did not make any financial gains from the transaction.

c) It was the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) which terminated the contract, and not AIM. Ms Lim herself has admitted that the AHTC’s arrears are high, and that this has nothing to do with AIM or the changeover of the IT system, and that the AHTC could do better. This is the key issue – the performance of the Town Councils, and how well they are managed by the WP.

Issued by PAP HQ for and behalf of
Dr Teo Ho Pin

It is disappointing to read b) above saying that AIM did not make any financial gains from the transaction.. So AIM is a charity and does not have any profit motive. I find that very hard to believe given that the Coordinating Chairman has already stated that payments were being made to AIM in his  previous statement.

Saying that AIM did not make financial gains is merely deflecting the real issue that the 14 PAP Town Councils will loose $25,030. This is tax dollars that goes to AIM all under the false premise of “maximizing IP”.

14 PAP Town Councils AIM
Contract Award $140,000 (perhaps each TC got $10K) ($140,000)
Lease (Nov 2010 – Oct 2011) ($785*14*12 => $131,880) $131,880
Nett $8,120
Nov 2011 – Apr 2013 ($33,150) $33,150
Nett ($25,030)

PAP has spun a web of mistrust and they just don’t get it.  Putting another PAP person in parliament via the Punggol East by-election is not what we need. I hope my fellow Singaporeans who can cast their vote this Saturday will do the Right Thing and not vote PAP.

If I have a chance to vote, I will vote the Worker’s Party.

Anonymity and Feedback


For the record, I will defend the right of anyone to engage in any discourse anonymously. Anonymity is a very potent and powerful tool that, as participants in a society, it serves to empower people to come forth and engage.

I’ve been a member of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation for a long time and fully subscribe to the EFF’s stand on anonymity. I am not sure about Singapore’s stand on anonymity. Nonetheless, what matters is that I will continue to support and defend the right to anonymity.

The challenge I sometimes face is how to respond to anonymous posts (either online or offline) in a way that will satisfy the person(s) making the anonymous posts as well as myself in responding to it.

Recently, I received two anonymous snail mail (yes, it’s 2013 and snail mail still exists!) about some matters at the place I live. I happen to be the chairman of the council managing the place and two  anonymous letters were about some issues about the estate.  I would very much want to respond to it, but am struggling on the how to.

I need advise on how to turn the anonymous praise/comments/requests/queries/complaints into productive and useful replies and conversations. Should I just post answers up on communal notice boards? Would the anonymous correspondents even know that I’ve replied? How can I know that the anonymous respondent has seen the replies?

Too many questions on a Friday evening.

Doing the right thing and a proposal


I am glad to read the the Prime Minister has decided to probe the sale the applications (built and paid using tax dollars) by the PAP Town Councils to the PAP-owned company AIM.

<stand up> <applause> <applause> <applause> <applause> <applause> <sit down>

I would like to know the following:

  1. Who will head this?
  2. What kind of time frame will this have to be done by – one month, one year, by next general election?
  3. In the meantime, what happens to the monies that have been spent (and to be spent) in the transaction
  4. Will there be a public disclosure of companies that are PAP-owned and a list of transactions done by them with public sector agencies. I would expect the same from the WP and other political parties as well.

I would also like to hear from the Prime Minister on how we can ensure that all technology used/developed/deployed in any public sector entity in Singapore will FIRST consider open source solutions and failing to find something, then with a request for exemption (RFE), filed, published and approved, to look at non-open source options.

The time is NOW to make the bold and exciting change, Mr Prime Minister. I am sure this is of no concern to you, but rest assured your legacy will be being acknowledged as the Open Source Prime Minister.

While it might be premature to say “well done”, any progress is good progress. Doing the right thing is what this is all about.

As citizens, we need to keep a watchful eye on this probe to ensure that nothing is left unturned and keep the pressure on.

Again, my offer to help build an open source solution to managing Town Council system remains.

Let me take this opportunity to flesh out a proposal of how this can be accomplished.

Proposal

  • We establish a Singapore Open Institute, funded by government and/or corporate sponsors.
  • SOI’s role will be primarily at assessing all the open source solutions being developed around the world especially for government (and education) and finding local use of them. Likewise, local public sector agencies can seek SOI’s help in creating open source solutions.
  • SOI will be the trusted agency that public sector entities will seek advise and clearance in projects they want to undertake.
  • SOI will also create a Public Sector Software Exchange (PSX). The PSX will be open to anyone, anywhere to contribute to as well as to consume code from. All code in PSX could be on a GPLv3 or Apache License v 2 or something Singapore-branded, like the EU open license. PSX will also host SMEs, start-ups and individuals who can provide solutions. Parts of the Instruction Manual will have to be amended as needed to accomodate this.
  • SOI will also be the entity to which requests for exemption (RFE) has to be applied for by public sector agencies before going for closed source products. RFEs will have an expiry period and will be specific to a project.
  • SOI will also be the catalyst in creating and running programming contests, hack-a-thons etc (both with open source software and hardware). This is principally to encourage as many people to learn coding and build solutions.
  • Mindef, Police, SCDF and security related agencies are exempted from SOI but are strongly encouraged to create an equivalent of forge.mil.
  • SOI will also be the thought leader for Open Data, Open Source, Open Hardware and Open Standards.

It is an idea whose time has come for Singapore to act on, Mr Prime Minister.

Let’s do the right thing.

It’s not a contest per se, it’s a Sahana-moment!


So, my 3 am post from January 3rd 2013 is now on http://www.tremeritus.com, probably not a good thing, but then this is the way things move.

For what it’s worth, going by the comments in that post, this is not about scoring points against the Coordinating Chairman or the PAP or the WP.  It is about highlighting the facts in a way that was clearer and not wrapped up in words and more importantly, offering a better way to do things for the betterment of this country.

At the expense of being ridiculed for stating the obvious, all the information and analysis done at 3 am on January 3rd 2013 that is in my original post is from that one media release put out by the Coordinating Chairman on January 2, 2013.

There is confusion about what the various issues which sadly are related albeit tangentially.

Let me try to give a map of the issues that are being looked at.

a) The Ministry of National Development put out a  Town Council Management Report for 2012 on December 14, 2012. Of the 15 town councils, all except for the Aljunied Hougang Town Council scored green in S&CC Arrears Management – Examines the extent of Town Councils’ S&CC arrears that residents have to bear.” AHTC is the only non-PAP Town Council.

b) Because of that red score, the question arose as to what happened? To that extent, the AHTC released their comments.

c) It then was known to all of us that there was a company, Action Information Management Pte Ltd, that was providing the IT solutions to the town councils.

d) That was when the issue blew up with regards to who is AIM, why did this company get to do this business, how did they come to own the IT system etc etc.

So, there are two chunks of issues:

1) The poor performance from the Town Council Management Report 2012 perspective of Aljunied Hougang Town Council

2) Who is this AIM and what is their role in all of this?

Both are important issues. I am in no position to comment on the first point.  That is for the AHTC to address to the satisfaction of the residents of AHTC as well as us Singaporeans.

My interest centers in the second point. As a computing professional, having been in this industry since 1982, this interests  me personally. I am also an advocate of using and growing the use of open source technologies especially in the public sector. The Town Councils are public sector organizations. It pains me to see good money being thrown at IT solutions only for the vendor(s) to obsolete it in a relatively short time, and get the customer to pay up again and again. This becomes even more acute with public sector IT spending. It is yours and my tax dollars that get spent wastefully.

Sure, there as a time when the open source solutions and frameworks did not quite provide good alternatives to address the varied IT needs. But that was a long, long time ago. Today open source is so very prevalent in every nook and corner that there is no longer any justifiable reason not to consider open source first for any IT need, especially in government and public sector.

People who know me would have heard the repeating groove that I have become, in that we need, at least in Singapore, an official government policy to do open source FIRST for all public sector IT procurement and for government agencies to file justifications for exemptions if they want to go with a proprietary solution and these exemptions have to be public knowledge.

Why is that needed? It is because monies spent by publicly funded agencies especially in reusable technologies like software, should not be wasted and locked away in some proprietary solution.

I am not proposing nor suggesting that open source solutions don’t come at a price. They do. They will need to be supported (as any software needs to, open or otherwise). But the huge upside when used in the public sector is that the solution can be worked on and enhanced and re-factored by entities that the public sector organizations could engage. This grows the local, domestic IT sector. It grows it in a way that benefits the local econoomy and SMEs who then get opportunities to become conversant in domains that otherwise will be hard to get into. With the code being open, anyone can contribute, but, and this is the part most people miss out, you STILL NEED commercially contracted support. 

This opens up opportunities to SMEs in Singapore to take up the various solutions to manage and maintain and gain expertise and in the process begin expanding outside Singapore as well.

Eight years ago, as a reservist SCDF officer, I was mobilized to support SCDF’s Ops Lion Heart to help with Search and Rescue after the 2004 Boxing Day Indian Ocean tsunami. My country called me to serve at a time of need and I put on my uniform and was on the ground in Banda Aceh for about two weeks.

The lessons I learned then was that in a disaster situation, the various international agencies and military/civil defense forces on the ground had very little common technology (other than walkie talkies) that could be used to coordinate the work. We, the SCDF, had our comms equipment (we had a Immarsat vsat satellite and satellite phones and GPS devices) but other than that, nothing else to interface with the other forces on the ground. Why? Because each of those entities had their own proprietary software tools to work with. At a time when there was a massive natural disaster, as rescuers we were not assisted by the technologies because of vendor lock-in.

Out of that disaster, came Project Sahana –  put together by Sri Lankan open source developers. Sahana is now a UN sanctioned tool for disaster management.

Why do I bring this up? Because it seems that we are heading to a Sahana-moment in Singapore. Public sector IT services should be decoupled from political parties.  Public sector IT solutions must open up the source code so that there are no opportunities for being taken for a ride.

So, to draw back to the beginning. Mr Coordinating Chairman, this is not a contest per se. This is a genuine offer to help us, the collective us, to do the Right Thing

Why Open Standards and Open Source Matters in Government


I have offered to the powers that be (TPTB) running the various Town Councils in Singapore an opportunity for the open source community to help build an application to manage their respective towns following the unfolding fiasco around their current software solution which is nearing end of life.

I am not surprised to hear comments and even SMS texts from friends who say that I am silly to want to offer to create a solution using open source tools. I can only attribute that to their relative lack of understanding of how this whole thing works and how we can collectively build fantastic solutions for the common good of society not only in Singapore but around the world.

I work for a company called Red Hat. Red Hat is a publicly traded company (RHT on NYSE) and is a 100% pure play open source company. What Red Hat does is to bring together open source software and make it consumable for enterprises. Doing that is not an easy thing. A lot of additional engineering and qualifications have to go into it before corporates and enterprises feel confident to deploy it. Red Hat has been successful in doing all of that because of the ethos of the company in engaging with open source developers (and hiring them as full time employees where appropriate) so that we can help the world gain and use better and higher quality software for everything.

That means that in taking open source software, Red Hat has to ensure that improvements and enhancements done are put back out as well to benefit everyone else and at the same time, at a price, provide a service to enterprises that want to use these tools but also want accountability, support, continued innovation etc. That is the Red Hat business model. We are the corporate entity that enterprises deploying open source tools look to for sanity.

Naturally, everything we create is available to anyone else, including our competition, and, yes, we can be beaten at our own game. That’s the best part. The fact that we can be challenged by others with what we helped create is a fantastic situation to be in as it forces us to constantly innovate (and in the open) and show how we are a responsible open source community member while giving tremendous value to enterprises.

It is in that spirit that I made the offer to help form a team of open source developers in Singapore to create the management system software for the town councils.  Certainly, when the software is built and deployed, the town councils would need to have competent support and there is nothing stopping any of the IT SMEs in Singapore picking up that opportunity. This gives the Town Councils significant advantage in choosing vendors to support their needs while keeping the innovation forthcoming because the code is open.

Here’s an article in an IT publication which I was interviewed about open source and CIOs – yeah, self promotion :-). But, here’s a better article about how open source is so prevalent in the US  government as well (yes, Gunnar is a colleague of mine).

So, the offer to build an open source solution is genuine and sincere. It is not for me to make money out of it per se, but to foster a situation that will create even more opportunities for others to actively participate in create fantastic open source solutions for us not only for the Singapore public sector, but the world.

I hope this offer is taken up seriously by TPTB including parts of IDA and MND. And for the record, this offer has nothing to do with Red Hat.

My Conscience Is Bugging Me


I cannot let the media statement put out by the “Coordinating Chairman of the PAP Town Councils” regarding the sale of the town council management software system to a ex-PAP MP-owned company be left alone without it being shredded apart. The media statement appeared on January 2, 2013 on the PAP website [updated 28 Oct 2018: those links are no longer valid but the contents of which is in the paragraph below].

I have italicised and indented the paragraphs from the media statement and my response follows each italicised segment.

Statement by Teo Ho Pin on AIM Transaction

On 28 December 2012, I issued a press release in response to Ms Sylvia Lim’s statement on the website of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council. Ms Lim had made various assertions in her statement. However, her statement was made without citing the relevant facts. I now make this further statement to set out fully the relevant facts.

I am the co-ordinating Chairman of all the PAP-run Town Councils (“the TCs”). The PAP TCs meet regularly and work closely with one another. This allows the TCs to derive economies of scale and to share