Monday, December 30, 2013

Five steps to business success for 2014

Preparations: A well-crafted business plan is like a roadmap for the year.

 How to develop a business plan for the new year

Here we are at the end of another year. For many business owners, it’s the right time to map out a strategic plan for next year. A well-crafted business plan is your roadmap to success and an easy way to stay on task for future growth, projected income and increased profits. Take one or two days now to develop a plan and you will save time, energy and maybe even a few dollars. Here’s how to develop a business plan for 2014 in five easy steps.

Set projected income

The very first thing you need to do when creating a business plan for the year ahead is to decide how much you plan on earning and what specifically you are looking to achieve. Setting these goals is only the first step, because outlining your plan for future months describes how you will get there and is the true blueprint for success.

Reflect on your current business models and income sources to help you determine your ideal income. If you’re having difficulty, evaluate these factors:

  • ·Do you need to identify a different profile that can spend more?
  • ·Would including a recurring element to your business increase profit?
  • ·Should your pricing be re-evaluated?
  • ·How is your marketing plan? How can you expand it to achieve more?

Set incremental goals 

The key to success in creating a business plan is detail and consistency. And every goal needs to be broken down into smaller tasks and objectives to ensure you are reaching your target audience and you have a plan for how to obtain your new income level.

Even the best plan is useless without milestones and success at reaching large goals comes from knowing how to create smaller, more attainable objectives. Simplify your income goals by this equation: Income per client x number of clients x frequency of clients = income. Clearly defined and manageable objectives- six months, monthly and weekly- will give you the momentum you need to reach difficult milestones while keeping a larger goal in view. Besides, this process gives you a bird’s eye view of exactly what income level needs to be reached within a certain time frame to stay on track for success.

Map out marketing

After determining what your income stream should be, it’s time to create a formula for acquiring the clients. The most effective way to reach a target audience and the only way to secure new customers is through marketing. After all, if no one knows you exist, no one will buy your products or services.

Take a long hard look at your current marketing activities and decide which strategies are effective and can be reused, even expanded, and which should be discarded. The right marketing can bring a steady stream of new clients, as well as build brand loyalty and solidify trust with existing customers.

Here are the most effective and commonly used platforms for acquiring new clients. Make sure to allocate sufficient time and budget for each:

  • ·Strategic Print Advertisement (Appear in front of your ideal prospects)
  • ·Online Marketing Strategies (Content to educate and entice)
  • ·Media Recognition (Position yourself as the expert authority)
  • ·Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+)
  • ·Networking and collaborations

Develop your team

Now that you have clearly defined, obtainable goals and a strategic marketing plan, it’s time to start thinking about how you are going to make it happen. It’s nearly impossible to achieve all of your goals by yourself and the best plans are always complemented by a strong team. Decide who you need and how they will help you achieve your milestones within your deadline.

Virtual teams are always an option, and can execute elements of your business plan simultaneously. On the other hand, you can also evaluate a current team or bring in someone new to free up time for you to execute growth campaigns.

Evaluate expenses 

Unfortunately, like everything in life — business costs money. However, by carefully evaluating all of your marketing activity and tracking return on investment stringently, you’ll have a better idea of where the money is going and how best it should be spent. Many business owners make the mistake of looking exclusively at gross profits, neglecting net profits. Make certain to record everything and be very clear about profits before taking on any new activities. This disciplined approach will help ensure that your ideal income is indeed profits.

Crafting an effective business plan is easy with a few good tips and the right information. By defining incremental goals, developing a marketing strategy, building your team and keeping an eye on expenses, you will be more than ready to charge into 2014 with spirited enthusiasm as you watch your business transform.

Contributed by Pam Siew

> Pam Siow is the founder of ThinkSpace. A renowned business coach within the region, Pam helps hundreds of business owners and corporations gain true success and profits with her knowledge and real-world experience. Find out more at ThinkSpace.com.my/ Internetbizownersclub.comnow.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Keeping a pledge to fitness resolutions for a new year new beginning 2014

Two heads are always better than one, so grab a friend to exercise with. The support and motivation will go a long way towards achieving results. – AFP

A new year signals a new beginning, but are fitness resolutions necessary when most people can’t sustain them?

RESOLUTIONS are never easy to keep, especially fitness ones.

Every year-end, I hear these mantras from at least a dozen people: lose weight, get toned, enrol in yoga, run faster, muscle up, eat less...

It’s like a pledging ritual, but without proper planning and implementation. Only one, at most two, will doggedly stick to the resolve. Hats off to them.

Most people gear up to hit the gym come Jan 1, follow through for the first couple of months, hit a roadblock (most likely from laziness, muscle soreness or injuries), and eventually, slide off the commitment ladder. This is also the period when gyms, as well as wellness and slimming centres, offer huge promotions to entice new clients.

Don’t be fooled or gullible enough to fall into this trap unless you know you have the perseverance to succeed.

Resolutions seem possible at the start of the year, but become impossible as the days and months whiz past. Or, you’ve set unrealistic expectations. Habits and behaviours require time to change, so don’t be too tough on yourself.

One of my Pilates students has told me countless times that his intention is to lose his belly fat. He’ll point to a macho guy at the gym and say, “I want to look like that.”

Not wanting to engage in a lengthy discussion about body types, every year, I’ll advise him on a workout regime he can adhere to. He’ll pump iron, run on the treadmill, and attend classes diligently the first few weeks.

Then poof!, he disappears, citing work, travel, weather and family issues. By year-end, he’ll reappear, pinch his spare tyre and exclaim, “Look at this!”

I’ll look and smile knowingly. This scenario has continued for the past five years. Buddy, I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.

So this year, why not do something different before embarking on your fitness goals?

First, sit on the couch and get your cravings out of the way. Yeah, that’s right. Allow yourself to binge to your heart’s desire to usher in the New Year. Put your feet up, snack on your favourite food – junk included, and sip your preferred drink, while watching the telly.

It’ll feel good for a while, but pretty soon, you’ll be sick of the over-indulgence and yearn for a more meaningful activity.

When you have mental clarity, focus on a fitness programme that is attainable. Ditch the impossible resolutions (e.g. losing 20 kilos in six months), but take your health and self-improvement goals one baby step at a time.

Unlike food, the endorphins released during exercise leave you feeling high for a longer time. Not only does it boost your mood, it also helps you get in shape.

Have you heard of anyone feeling depressed after a round of exercise? Fatigued, yes, but they’re rarely down in the dumps.

Physical activity doesn’t have to be complicated, so here are some tips for a healthy start:

Always warm up before starting a physical activity

Warming up is essential to prepare the body for energetic activity and reduce the risk of injury. The purpose is to ease both the mind and body from a state of rest into a state of strenuous activity.

A warm-up routine should consist of a 10-minute cardio workout, such as skipping or brisk walking, and five to 10 minutes of gentle loosening exercises, which produces a light sweat (for example, rotation of the ankle, wrists, shoulders and hips).

Increasing the core and muscle temperatures helps to make muscles loose and supple. Besides increasing the heart rate and boosting blood flow, warm-ups supply oxygen to the muscles and prepare the body for action.

Walk, walk and walk

If you have limited finances or lack time to join the gym, go brisk walking, weather permitting. Avoid taking lifts, but walk up the stairs, walk to the shops, walk around the park or walk to your colleague’s cubicle instead of phoning or sending her/him an Intranet message.

Walking has multiple benefits, including helping against heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Work out with a friend

Two heads are always better than one, so grab a friend to exercise with. The support and motivation will go a long way towards achieving results. And with the crime rate these days, it’s better to have a companion, especially if you’re doing an outdoor workout.

Commit to early morning exercise

Everyone needs an extra minute of sleep, but if you can rise early and squeeze in at least 30 minutes for exercise, you’ll be more likely to keep to your regime.

Plus, once you get the exercise bit out of the way, you’ll also have plenty of energy left for the rest of the day.

Combine cardio and strength training

Instead of allocating separate days for cardio and strength training, combine both. Do a two-minute cardio routine and add two strength moves (e.g. crunches and push-ups). Repeat the cardio and add two more strength moves (e.g. squats and tricep dips).

Not only does it help with muscle retention, but it also promotes a faster metabolic rate and enhances lipolysis, speeding up the rate of fat loss.

Cool down and stretch

Cooling down is equally as important as warming up, though many people fail to realise this and jump into the next activity immediately.

Cooling down restores the body to a pre-exercise state in a controlled manner, helps the body repair itself, and can lessen muscle soreness the following day. Gentle walking for five to 10 minutes is good to recover the heart’s resting rate. After that, perform some static stretches by holding the stretch for at least 20 seconds.

Eat healthy

Try to eat healthy (cut out the fried stuff) and load up on fruits and veggies, but don’t skip your favourite desserts, no matter how sinful they are. Instead, have a mini serving to satiate your taste buds.

Research reveals that skipping dessert can backfire and leave you wanting more. In a 2010 study published in the journal Obesity, dieters who were restricted from eating a small dessert were more likely to be left “wanting” than those who had a bite of sweets. Eliminating your favourite foods can be a recipe for disaster and may create an obsession.

Personally, I can’t keep to resolutions. As I get older (translation: injuries that take longer to heal), I occasionally cut myself some slack and allow my body a break to recharge for a week. But, that doesn’t mean I do nothing. I still stretch in bed, do breathing exercises, or take long strolls and get to know the neighbourhood dogs.

After all, you’re not participating in a sprint to get fit. Rather, we’re all runners in this slow, steady marathon for better health. There are no winners or losers, just healthier, trimmer individuals and less medical expenses.

On that note, here’s wishing readers a happy new and fit year ahead!

Contributed yy Revathi Murugappan

The writer is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places. She hopes to do one final dance in 2014 before gracefully bowing out from stage to make way for the next generation.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Yasukuni glorifies Japan's inglorious past

Japanese Ghost: Yasukuni Shrine

In the field of diplomacy, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could be better described as "Downturn Abe".

His visit to the Yasukuni Shrine is a calculated rebuff to those in Japan who seek better diplomatic relations and warms the hearts of those who want Japan to be a major military power and jettison any constitutional restraints preventing this.

The Yasukuni Shrine does not serve the same purpose as Arlington National Cemetery in the United States, or the Cenotaph in the United Kingdom. No bodies are buried at Yasukuni Shrine. Japan's head of state refuses to visit. Indeed, no emperor has set foot inside the shrine since 1975, three years before the souls of war criminals were interred there by Shinto priests. News of the enshrinement was kept quiet for months.

The late emperor Hirohito refused to go there after convicted war criminals, seven of whom were hanged, were secretly enshrined in 1978, joining about 2.5 million other Japanese who died in battle in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Hirohito had paid his respects at Yasukuni eight times after the war but made his final visit in 1975 by which time, according to palace documents, he became disillusioned with the way the shrine was being managed and what it was trying to represent.

His son, Emperor Akihito, has never visited.

Japan does have a national cemetery, with the remains of the war dead, in Chidorigafuchi, just up the road from Yasukuni. Few politicians visit.

Yasukuni has a specific role: It pays homage to, and celebrates, unapologetic militarism. This piece of Tokyo real estate, close to the Imperial Palace, with its broad avenue lined by cherry blossom trees, is considered holy ground by extreme nationalists.

It is a shrine dedicated to glorifying war, empire and unrepentant militarism.

It is a privately run shrine that enjoys the close patronage of the Japan Association of War Bereaved. The association has, and continues to enjoy, close ties to the governing Liberal Democratic Party.

The Yushukan museum, attached to the shrine, is a land of make-believe for militarists. It claims that Japan was forced into war by the US, and that Tokyo waged an honorable campaign to free Asia from white European colonialism. This time frame, conveniently, leaves out the rapacious behavior of Japanese troops in China before Pearl Harbor.

A Zero fighter aircraft greets visitors at the museum's entrance. No mention is made of the Nanjing Massacre or the razing of Manila. A giant mural depicts the Battle of Tokyo Bay. No battle ever took place.

During World War II, a ballad popular with Japanese troops heading off to fight had the following refrain: "You and I are cherry blossoms of the same year. Even if we're far apart when our petals fall, we'll bloom again in the treetops of Yasukuni Shrine."

Abe is nurturing the roots of those cherry blossom trees.

By Tom Clifford, a senior copy editor of China Daily USA

Related: 

Images for Yasukuni war shrine
 - Report images

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Japan PM Abe's visits to Yasukuni glorifying Japan's war criminals, stirs new tension in Asia!

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2nd L) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo December 26, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]




Exclusive interview: Abe accused of internationally insulting China and ROK CCTV News - CNTV English

Serious consequences warned after Abe pays war tribute

Shinzo Abe stunned the international community on Thursday by making himself the first sitting Japanese prime minister in seven years to visit a shrine that honors 14 World War II Class A war criminals among the country's war dead.

The abrupt move — widely viewed as rewriting public memory on Japan's militaristic past — enraged Japan's victimized neighbors including China and South Korea and disappointed Japan's traditional ally the United States.

Observers said the hard-core nationalist Abe is ruining the stability of Northeast Asia and that he seems to believe it is worthwhile to sacrifice honesty about history in order to revitalize Japan's assertive style of expansion before World War II.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi summoned Japanese Ambassador to China Masato Kitera to lodge a strong protest on Thursday. Beijing vowed zerotolerance for Abe's touching the bottom of the bilateral relationship, and for betraying the commitment of his government and his predecessors, he said.

Japan must bear "full responsibility for the serious political consequences" of the visit, he said, adding Abe's action has pushed Japan in an "extremely dangerous" direction.

The shrine used to serve as a spiritual tool and symbol of Japanese militaristic aggression, and Abe's pilgrimage is "a flagrant provocation against international justice", Wang said.

South Korean Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong said in a statement that "our government cannot repress lamentation and rage over Abe's paying of respects at the Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies its colonial aggression and enshrines war criminals".

A few hours after Abe went to the shrine, the US Embassy in Japan released a written statement saying that "the United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors."

Washington hopes that Japan and its neighbors will "find constructive ways" to deal with sensitive issues from the past, the statement said.

Yang Bojiang, deputy director of the Institute of Japan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Abe's visit will deal a heavy blow to Japan's international image and further isolate the country.

"Abe is risking support from within both Japan and the United States, and his political life will come to an earlier end," Yang warned.

Japan has strained its diplomatic relationships with China, South Korea and Russia in the past two years because of disputes over islands and historical issues, and the situation has also been a headache for Washington.

James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, said, "there is almost nothing a Japanese prime minister could have done that would have inflamed tempers more along the Japan-China-South Korea-US axis than to make this visit".

"Americans who visit the ‘historical' museum at the shrine (as I have done) will note its portrayal of Japan being "forced" into World War II by US economic and military encirclement," Fallows wrote in his latest online article.

Abe is deliberately stirring up the situation to "make sure the tension does not fade away", said Feng Wei, a professor of Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

"Because there will be no more excuses for his plan of revising Japan's pacifist Constitution if there is no tension in Japan's neighborhood," Feng said.

The visit was made as Abe's public support this month dropped to a record low since he retook office last December.

Akihiro Nonaka, a professor at the School of Political Science at Waseda University in Tokyo, said "the enshrining of the Class A criminals is unconstitutional, according to Japan's Supreme Court".

"He does not show respect for the countless Asian people who died in the war," Nonaka added.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China Foreign Affairs University, said what is behind Abe's pilgrimage is the accelerating pace of the Japanese government in seeking a right-wing style of governing, which is "bringing a huge threat to regional peace".

"As Abe is bent on eliminating all legislative restrictions against Japanese armed forces waging a war, the international community will be unable to rein in Japan from taking such a dangerous step," Zhou warned.

- China Daily USA

Related post:
 China keeps an eye on Abe as Japan PM seeks to rally support from Asean 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Malaysia's jobless rate rising; Penang full employment, CM Christmas messages

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng looking at the artist impression of  The Top Komtar roof top project together with Only World Group chairman and group CEO Dato Richard Koh during the ground breaking ceremony, October 29, 2013. — Picture by K.E. Ooi

Prospective job hunters unable to score employment elsewhere in the country should try their luck north.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng announced today a booming market in the northern state, so much so that employers are hard put to find sufficient qualified manpower to fill 20,000 vacancies critical to keep their entrprises running.

“There is a growing [sic] at the increased in unemployment rate in the country which is at 3.3 per cent in October 2013, an increase of 0.2 per cent from the 3.1 per cent in September this year,” Lim said, citing figures released by the Department of Statistics.

Official date from the departmen showed the number of unemployed in the country to total 462,300 people, an increase of 19,100 people from September to October.

In contrast, the number of people with jobs was cut by 98,500, leaving 13.7 million people employed out of a total population of 28 million.

“Despite the rise in unemployment rate in Malaysia, Penang continues to see not just full employment but a shortage of at least 20,000 workers,” he added in his Christmas message statement.

Lim attributed Penang’s high employment rate to its recent successes in securing several critical foreign direct investments (FDI).

He said his state government will be making several important announcements on these FDIs next month, with a promise that the details will fulfil Penang’s pro-growth and pro-jobs objectives that he boasted had become its policy since he took control of the state in 2008.

“Penang has neither been distracted nor detracted from seeking sustainable growth that provides jobs for Malaysians,” he said.

He proudly pointed out Penang’s annual healthy budget surpluses recorded since PR took over the state administration five years ago.

“The budget-based administration we implemented since 2008 had led to an increase in state assets by 50 per cent to RM1.2 billion and a reduction in state debt by a record 95 per cent,” Lim said.

As for investments, he said the state had recorded RM36.1 billion in investments between the years 2008 and 2012, which is almost double of the RM18.7 billion in investments between 2003 and 2007.

“This was achieved through fighting corruption, establishing integrity in public service and open competitive tenders,” he said.

He said the state is moving towards an outcome-based administration that focuses on getting value-for-money for government expenditure to lower maintenance costs while ensuring better quality in the public delivery of services.

He reassured Penangites who fall into the poor and the less-fortunate categories that they will not be forgotten, saying the state will continue to disburse cash allowances through its various social welfare programmes funded from its savings of public projects.

“We have also adopted the unconditional cash transfer model of topping up all families whose monthly household incomes are below the poverty line of RM 790 per month to make Penang free from poverty,” he said.

As part of his message for the season, he reiterated his administration’s pledge to roll out by February next year, a three-pronged housing policy, which has been a major issue in the land-strapped state.

To help put housing prices within the bank accounts of more residents, Lim said the state will compel private developers to build a fixed percentage of affordable housing priced below RM250,000 on the mainland, and below RM400,000 on the island.

The Air Putih assemblyman said the state investment arm, Penang Development Corporation, will also undertake to construct 20,000 units of public housing, to be priced below RM72,500 per unit.

There would also be a 10-year limit on reselling government-built housing, a five-year cap on homes built under the affordable housing scheme to prevent speculation.

Lastly, he said his administration will start imposing a 3 per cent tax on foreign property transactions and a 2 per cent levy on all properties that are resold within a three-year period.

“Just as Christmas is celebrated to give life to all, Penang can only prosper if everyone regardless of race or religion can enjoy the fruits of success together,” Lim said.

- Contributed by Opalyn Kok

Guan Eng's Christmas message gives a glimpse of new 'OUTCOME-BASED' policies 

The Penang state government reaffirms CAT governance of competency, accountability and transparency that upgrades budget-based to outcome-based administration that ensures economic growth(pro-growth), employment opportunities(pro-jobs) and equitable justice(pro-poor). Penang has neither been distracted nor detracted from seeking sustainable growth that provides jobs for Malaysians.

There is growing concern at the increased unemployment rate in Malaysia announced by the Department of Statistics at 3.3% in October 2013, up 0.2 percentage point from the 3.1% in September this year. October 2013 saw an increase of the unemployed by 19,100 persons to 462,300 persons, and there was a drop of employed persons by 98,500 to 13.70 million people.

Despite the rise in unemployment rate in Malaysia, Penang continues to see not just full employment but a shortage of at least 20,000 workers. Penang’s recent successes in securing several critical foreign direct investments, which will be followed by important announcements next month, will fulfil the pro-growth and pro-jobs objectives of the Penang PR state government.

The budget-based administration implemented by PR since 2008 has led to a healthy budget surplus every year, increase in state’s assets by 50% to RM 1.2 billion and a reduction in state debt by a record 95%. Again, investments was a record RM 36.1 billion for 5 years from 2008-2012, which is nearly double that compared to RM18.7 billion from 2003-7. This was achieved through fighting corruption, establishing integrity in public service and open competitive tenders.

Outcome-based administration

Moving towards outcome-based administration in the second term of government, focuses on getting value-for-money for government expenditure that will not only assist in reducing maintenance costs but also ensure better quality in the public delivery of services. This will go a long way towards achieving a cleaner, greener, safer and healthier Penang.

However the poor, the weak and those who need help are not forgotten. Penang is not only the first state to give cash contributions to ordinary citizens as part of the anti-corruption dividend but also the first state in Malaysian history to wipe out corruption. Adopting the unconditional cash transfer or UCT model of topping up all families whose monthly household incomes are below the poverty line of RM 790 per month, Penang is free from poverty.

First-time buyers and middle-income groups seeking to buy houses will benefit from the 3-prong housing democracy strategy of:-
  • Compelling private developers to build a fixed percentage of affordable housing(above RM72,500 but below RM250,000 on the mainland and below RM400,000 on the island) and public housing(below RM72,500);
  • Building 20,000 units of affordable housing through Penang Development Corporation(PDC); and
  • Implementing new housing rules after 1 February 2014 of a 10 year restrictions on resale on public housing and 5-year restriction on affordable housing, an approval fee of 3% on foreign transactions and a 2% approval fee of all sales made within 3 years from signing of the Sales & Purchase Agreement.
Just as Christmas is celebrated to give life to all, Penang can only prosper if everyone regardless of race or religion can enjoy the fruits of success together.

Penang is also proud to offer fundamental rights such as freedom of speech and expression. As the art and cultural capital of Malaysia, Penang celebrates the right to live with dignity in an inclusive society. As Nelson Mandela said, “.For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

- LIM GUAN ENG IS THE PENANG CHIEF MINISTER

Related post:

Penang to unveil stricter housing rules

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Transforming the company into a heavyweight, sharing his love

Tee (left) and Ooi chatting with Mazlin.

Transforming Daya into a heavyweight

Contributed by Tee Lin Say

YOU have to meet Daya Materials Bhd executive vice-chairman Datuk Mazlin Junid in person to understand why he appeals to people at large.

The first thing you notice is how witty and direct he is. So, no superficial talk on “how your day was” or whether “the coffee tastes okay”.

Mazlin tells you things as it is, so don’t ask if you aren’t prepared. That, however, is his charm. What you see is really what you get.

Physically, Mazlin is good looking. Despite the Prada loafers and 7 for all mankind jeans, there is an almost Neanderthal-like quality about him. In the band of brotherhood, Mazlin’s more of your Vin Diesel than an Orlando Bloom.

He has two great goals in life now. The first is a vision to transform Daya into a heavyweight. He’s aiming for the company to join the billion dollar club over the next three years. (For the nine months to Sept 30, 2013, Daya’s revenue jumped 110% to RM373mil in revenue and net profit increased 26.74% to RM18.9mil)

The other, is to look like his idol, Australian actor Hugh Jackman.

He loves the pain that comes with pushing himself to extremes. Dumb bells are his favourite toys. Why, he even celebrated his birthday in the gym with his gym mates.

“I am 52 now. I have done it all. The cars, the yacht, you name it. What turns me on now is winning contracts for Daya,” says Mazlin resolutely.

“At the end of the day, a company needs to deliver. We are very focused on creating value and growing the company over the long term. I have huge responsibility to my staff and the people who gave us contracts. We have to deliver based on my vision for the company, Daya is still undervalued, “says Mazlin.

“You must always take responsibility. It’s not about following your emotions. Whether it’s to your family, the people you work for, your client, or someone you dislike, take responsibility,” he says.

He adds that with Daya Offshore Construction Sdn Bhd (DOC) going out there to secure contracts from Norway, Daya is in fact going against the grain of typical Malaysian oil and gas companies.

When asked what Malaysia’s problems are, he responds: “If there is a hard truth Malaysian companies must learn, it is to stop the habit of political patronage,”

Not surprising, Daya has been one of Bursa Malaysia’s outperformers this year. On a year-to-date basis, the stock is up 116% to 41 sen as of Thursday.

While Daya started off in 1994 as a specialised polymer company, it has since expanded substantially into the oil and gas (O&G) business. Daya was initially more focused on the downstream O&G segment, where it was already established as a leader particularly in chemical services. It chugged along, growing organically until this year, which was clearly the inflection point for Daya.

This started with the formation of DOC last September, of which Mazlin appointed Mark Midgley CEO.

Almost immediately DOC began delivering results.

The arrival of vessels Siem Daya 1 and Siem Daya 2 literally created waves. DOC secured two major contracts in less than six months from Norwegian firm Technip Norge AS for charter and subsea contracts worth RM440mil and RM100mil-RM176mil respectively.

The latest research house to give its mark of approval to Daya’s efforts is RHB Research, which has a 48-sen target price. DOC is already contributing almost 50% to Daya’s topline.

“Suddenly Nathan (Daya’s MD Nathan Tham) was busy answering calls from some 40 fund managers. People wanted our shares and started saying Daya was the smallest O&G stock and with the most growth. I guess this is what happens when earnings have been growing organically over the last five years,” laughs Mazlin.

Sharing his love

Contributed by Xandria Ooi

FASCINATION is what I’m feeling when talking to Datuk Mazlin Junid, a man who doesn’t mince his words, yet laughs so often you know he doesn’t take himself seriously.

Work, however, is a different matter.

When you’re a business leader, he says, you don’t have to be liked. “If you want to be popular, you can’t get things done.”

We’re sitting in the quiet guest lounge of Daya Materials and Mazlin is extremely casual and candid. It feels like a chat, not an interview.

He explains to me how he doesn’t hesitate to fire people, even at the directorial level, because they either weren’t performing or did something that conflicted with the interests of the company.

“And he could be a friend,” he says matter-of-factly. “Friendship is secondary, the company always comes first. All that matters is our bottom line.”

I can’t let it go, not quite believing that a man as affable as he is, truly doesn’t care what his employees think of him. Don’t people who like and respect their bosses look forward to going to work and having the motivation to work harder?

“Well, I like them to like their jobs.”

Would you be okay if your successor in the future is a woman?

“Oh certainly, I’m not gender specific. I’d like to have more female board members but right now, there’s only a few. Malaysia’s industry has always been a bit chauvinistic with few women leaders, except maybe banking.”

He mentions Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz as a woman he feels is a brilliant leader, alongside Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and Datuk Farah Khan.

“Women,” he says, “are more passionate. There are very few female business leaders who can be as cold-hearted as men. People like me, I’m very cold-hearted.”

In what way? “Well, when I take more than one wife, for example, I’m very cold-hearted about it.”

But that’s not business, I protest, laughing.

But since he brings up his wives, I assume I’ve just been given permission to delve into the topic of his rather large family, with four wives and now three, after a recent divorce.

People ask him, all the time, why he chose to have so many wives.

“And I tell them ... because I could. Although now, I wish I hadn’t.”

Why? I’m fascinated. This is, by far, one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had about relationships.

He makes a noise, somewhere between a grunt and a sigh. “The amount of stress and management! Obviously, all these things that happened, nothing was planned.”

I raise my eyebrows. What do you mean, nothing was planned? When you propose to a woman, isn’t it planned? I point out.

He counters that it wasn’t his lifelong ambition to get married multiple times. “Sometimes it was done on a spur of a moment”.

Are you the kind of man who gets swept away by love and that’s why you propose to women on impulse?

“That’s a good question,” he muses. “Somebody asked if I know what love means. Until today, I can’t figure it out – what love for a wife is all about. Responsibility, somehow, is stacked right at the top for me.

Running one household is hardly easy, but to run four (now three) at a time, takes some mighty management skills. Mazlin has it down to a workable, practical schedule that he says keeps everyone happy.

As he explains it, “Relationships are just like work. I use my work practices at home. There are tasks to be done and I implement the same regime for every household.”

I listen wide-eyed as he elaborates, describing how he sometimes repeats the same holiday three times with his different wives.

“No, my wives don’t mix,” he volunteers the information, knowing what I am about to ask just from the look on my face.

Surely there’s bound to be jealousy?

“They’re not jealous of each other, but they’re jealous of other women!” he declares and I am reminded of how he can now marry another.

“Somebody asked me if I’m on a fleet renewal programme,” he jokes. “But no, I have my hands full right now.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Making Malaysia’s Base Lending Rate more relevant

 New interest rate framework expected to be more linked to funding cost

BANK Negara is moving ahead with the times by replacing the outdated base lending rate (BLR) with a more relevant interest rate benchmark.

“The BLR has become less meaningful as a basis for the pricing of loans, as the retail lending rates on new loans being offered by the industry are at a substantial discount to the BLR,’’ The Star reported, quoting governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

For the third quarter this year, the average lending rate (AVL) was 5.4% compared with the BLR of 6.53% and fixed deposit (FD) rate of 3.15% for 12 months.

For the corresponding quarter last yer, the AVL was 5.55% while the BLR was still at 6.53% while the FD rate for 12 months was 3.16%.

The current BLR reflects other costs such as overhead costs.

The new framework will be more related to funding cost, especially marginal funding cost, which is actually how banks are pricing their loans, Zeti said.

While work is underway to come up with a new BLR, the intervention rate under the current BLR framework is expected to nudge upwards, said Nazlee Khalifah, the chief corporate strategist of Affin Bank.

Under the current BLR regime, the intervention rate of 3% is expected to increase 25 basis points by next June, said Nazlee.

The upcoming BLR is being discussed with a concept paper expected next month.

‘“They have to think of how to prevent capital flight as interest rates in the United States may rise and attract capital back to the country,’’ said Nazlee.

Beginning next January, the Fed announced it would start pulling back its bond buying from US$85bil per month to US$75bil.

Instead, it will provide forward guidance on interest rates which are expected to remain low, in view of US unemployment being above 6.5% and inflation kept low.

The US$1 trillion stimulus programme has been a huge success but this is the journey back to fundamentals.

The world economy is being weaned of easy money and every player has to play his part in ensuring recovery and sustainability.

It is not enough for just the regulators to be keeping an eagle eye on miscreants but the participants themselves have to know their limits.

The Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission is cracking down on insider trading.

In a landmark ruling, a Hong Kong court has ordered Du Jun to pay 297 investors almost HK$24mil for the money he earned from his illegal dealing in 2007, said the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Last year, 7,700 investors who bought shares of Hontex International were paid back after a court ordered the sport fabric maker to pay HK$1.03bil to small shareholders for allegedly misleading information in its listing prospectus, said the SCMP.

There have been many instances of insider trading but the punishment has become more severe in view of the trend towards investor protection and reimbursement worldwide.

Contributed by Columnist Yap Leng Kuen applauds the tapering off of the era of easy money.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

It is a small world

The world is actually quite small

EVERY week, I go to the nearby wet market to stock up on provisions. One of the stalls I have to stop by is run by a young man who knows that I am there to collect my weekly quota of 20 kampung eggs.

Recently I asked him if he might want to consider starting up an online service to provide home delivery to his regular customers. After all, even the major hypermarkets are going big time in providing such a service to tap into the trend of people being so busy that grocery shopping needs another approach.

His reply tells me once again that true wisdom rests among ordinary people who truly know what the real world is all about. You can grab quotations from wise men and manage­ment gurus but sometimes the real gems are from people like my egg seller.

He basically told me that it is better for me to come out and get the chance to meet people rather than stay in the house. Every moment in any public area, he said, is fresh and unpredictable.

“You can bump into people you have not met for a long time or come across something interesting that cheers you up when you are feeling down,” he said.

The egg seller is correct to say that every moment in public is fresh and unpredictable. I have always believed that nothing happens by chance. Some call it divine appointments but it is this connection of one human to another that opens up a myriad of possibilities.

Through such encounters, we learn that the world is actually quite small once we start connecting the dots and learn that the person we have just met is actually not quite a stranger after all.

As much as I love the written word, I find that it is the spoken word, with all the body language appended, that conveys the true meaning of what we want to say.

To tell someone you are sorry through a card is easy even if you do not really mean it. But to say you are sorry up close and personal, you’d better mean what you say or else.

Those who are less socially inclined than I am will disagree when I say that we are not created to be solitary beings. We need company to flourish in thought and in deed.

We can talk about feeling the pulse of the people and of being connected to the grassroots, but if we are only doing so from the comfort of our living room or office, we will never get the real picture.

Some of the things I read online will make me think there is absolutely no hope left in the country, but when I am out there, I realise that this is just not the case.

Take a ride on the bus or the LRT, drop in to see a friend at the hospital, take a walk around the neighbourhood, have a chat with the grasscutter ...

Then you will learn that the world we live in is a wonderful place because the people make it so.

And we do so by not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

In this season of Christmas, it is my hope that we do our part to reach out and love one another. We can, and we will, make a difference.

Contributed by Soo Ewe Jin. He wishes all Christian readers a blessed Christmas with a gentle reminder that this is the season not only for giving but for forgiving as well.

Related posts:

Get pay from spying?

Whistleblowing hero: Germans holding up pictures of Snowden while protesting in front of the Reichstag building which houses the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin . — AFP

Heavy-duty spying does not pay 

The hidden costs, and the controversy, of the massive US global spying operation keep on growing.

IF officials behind the US-based “Five Eyes” spying network had hoped the scandal would soon fade away, their obvious disappointment should be an object lesson about their excesses and abuses.



US, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand spies – together with their Singaporean and South Korean co-conspirators – had violated the implicit trust placed in their governments by friendly and ally nations around the world.

Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden had exposed how the conspirators had tapped into fibre-optic cables in 20 locations worldwide and infiltrated 50,000 computer networks.

This unprecedented scale of spying makes no distinction between friend and foe. It has provoked questions about the value of being a friend or “ally” of these Western countries.

Countries in the world’s main regions have routinely been spied on: Europe, East Asia, West Asia and Latin America. The spying exceeds all norms of intelligence gathering to target the personal cell phones of national leaders, from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and even his wife Ibu Ani Yudhoyono.

Snowden’s leaks reveal that Spain, for example, had been spied on so much as to have 20 million phone calls tapped each day. For the US authorities to insist that it was all for the sake of fighting terrorism is too much of a stretch.

The spying covers economic as well as political purposes. It was revealed that a foreign government’s confidential information picked up from spying is also used to give an unfair advantage to US companies against other companies in bids for international contracts.

Today’s supercomputers can do a lot of work in very little time. The ones used in the US global spying scheme apparently had very little ethical human supervision, precisely because that was the intention.

It has long been a “given” that all countries gather intelligence, to varying degrees, through some of their diplomats, expatriates and other undercover operatives. The extent of this activity also varies with the distance in relations between the spying country and the one spied upon.

Between friendly countries, discussions on issues of common interest and concern are the means of updating one another on events. Excessively intrusive and invasive spying, however, such as the kind Snowden has revealed, is supposed to be for untrustworthy governments and enemy nations.

Such universal perceptions and expectations lie at the heart of the current spying controversy. There is little wonder that countries so sordidly spied on take the matter so seriously.

Such spying shows the United States would enforce its will on all other countries, as opposed to sharing information between equal partners with mutual respect. It also implies that rules will be made by the US alone.

At the bilateral meeting in Jakarta during the week between Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Susilo, Malaysia declared full support for Indonesia in placing the spying scandal on the agenda of the next Asean Summit in Myanmar.

In seeking a satisfactory corrective for spying intrusions that breach all known limits, granting a regional profile to the problem is the least that Indonesia and Malaysia can do. Thailand is another Asean country targeted by these spies operating in part from the respective Australian embassies.

France and Germany are particularly outraged by “Five Eyes” snooping. Italy, the Netherlands and Spain are also concerned, as the scandal unites political parties within individual nations as well as European countries throughout the EU – except for Britain.

The aggrieved countries find the excessive spying violating privacy rights, their national sovereignty as well as their domestic laws. US officials predictably reject its seriousness.

The EU now wants a new law requiring private IT companies to inform European regulators if a foreign snooping request is made on any European citizen. That effort could clash with an existing US law that bans any company whose “cooperation” is required from telling anyone.

The potential conflict would pit European determination against US intransigence. It would further test the trans-Atlantic alliance in the post-Cold War period.

As the initial leaks started to provoke European anger, clandestine efforts tried to dilute or divert the upset.

It was somehow also “leaked” that the French government had been spying on its own population, followed by allegations that the German government had known about and even used information obtained by US-connected spies. The truth of these “mitigating” leaks was, however, less clear.

As expected, such efforts at damage control had a very limited effect. The harm perpetrated by US-led spying on the trust, goodwill and relations with Europe was far more serious, and remains a main feature in the foreground.

In Latin America “south of the border”, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela are particularly disturbed by US-led spying activities. Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay are also concerned.

Several of these countries have already offered asylum to Snowden, who hopes to avoid prosecution in the US after his current one-year asylum stay in Russia. The more Washington pressures and threatens these countries, the more keen they are to protect whistleblowers like Snowden.

The Union of South American Nations (Unasur) is currently working on a new, alternative communications system that will cut the prospect of US spying in the region. As a sign of seriousness, the region’s defence ministers who form Unasur’s defence council are tasked with developing the new system.

Unasur’s 12 member countries may be disadvantaged in lacking sophisticated technological inputs for the system. However, they also enjoy certain advantages in a renewed unity, determination and strength of purpose.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose email had been hacked by US spies, has accused Washington of violating human rights and crime. Four days ago, she followed this with a defence procurement contract that spelt out clearly where Brazil stood.

Capping a 10-year plan, Rousseff announced on Wednesday that Brazil would buy 36 of Sweden’s Saab Gripen fighter jets instead of Boeing’s F/A-18s in replacing the air force’s ageing fleet. Brazil had bargained the price down from US$6bil (RM19.8bil) to US$4.5bil (RM14.8bil).

US officials privately grumbled over having lost “a US$4bil deal” but in fact the cost of NSA spying on Brazil is almost twice that. Boeing’s price for the F/A-18s was US$7.5bil (RM24.7bil).

Over the longer term, the cost to the US economy is likely to grow if Washington does not or cannot seriously mend its ways. US-based companies like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft are often seen by other countries as part of the problem in having to comply with US laws and demands.

Unasur is already showing the way forward by working on an alternative. In time, other regions like Europe and countries such as Russia, India and China may also develop their own communications systems and software, taking more business away from US companies.

In the short term it is always tempting to blame the messenger such as Edward Snowden rather than the problematic nature of the message itself. Ironically, the development of modern communications has raised awareness of privacy and sovereignty rights – and of their violations.

To level the playing field, IT development as well as spying activities may need to become more equalised. By serving the greater interests of the greater number, that would be democratisation indeed.

Contributed by Bunn Nagara, who is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, The Star/Asia News Network

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2. You are being snooped on, Malaysia views US-NSA spying seriously!
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4. Educate public on changes in e-technology, CAP urg...
5..USA Spying, the Super-Snooper !
6. NSA secretly hacks, intercepts Google, Yahoo daily...
7. Abusing intelligence is stupid
8. Brazil attacks US over spying issue
9. US Spy Snowden Says U.S. Hacking China Since 2009
10. Upset over US cyber spying! 
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Saturday, December 21, 2013

2013 the year of Internet innovation


As the year comes to a close, we need to reflect on what are the most important things that have affected our lives in 2013.

The Internet continues to transform our world. The most significant Internet event in 2013 was not the listing of Facebook, which priced the company at $104 billion (almost Bt3.4 trillion), but Edward Snowden's July revelations of Internet surveillance, which revealed that Big Brother, friend or foe, is really watching. Since my smartphone is smart enough to track me even in the toilet, there is really no privacy left in this world.

On the plus side, Singles Day - November 11 - garnered 35 billion yuan (Bt187 billion) in online sales on one day in China. Since China already accounts for one-third of the smartphones in the world, and they can make and sell smartphones at one-third the price of Apple or Samsung, it is not surprising that e-commerce in the Middle Kingdom is set to overtake even the US in volume next year.

Online business is here to stay.

What the combination of the Internet and smartphone means is that a person in the remotest part of Indonesia can sell his or her product to buyers worldwide, and collect over the smartphone, which was impossible to imagine even 20 years ago.

Amazing also are the apps downloaded in their millions to maximise personal efficiency. Ease of personal communication, meanwhile, has been taken to a new level with apps like WeChat. Such free Internet services are rising so fast that even revenue from SMS text messages is slowing down.

On the other side, after Snowden, what must consider the proper role of the government in the Internet and how it should behave to encourage Web innovation and growth?

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz was one of the first to tackle the subject, in "The Role of Government in a Digital Age" (2000), with Peter and Jonathan Orzag. Their report recommended 12 principles. The first three cover the state's proper role in the affairs of the Internet:

1. Provide public data and information.

2. Improve efficient government services.

3. Support basic research.

The next six principles are areas where the government should exercise caution. These include:

4. Adding specialised value to public data and information.

5. Providing private goods only under limited circumstances.

6. Providing services online where private services are more efficient.

7. Ensuring that mechanisms exist to protect privacy, security, and consumer protection online.

8. Promoting network externalities only with great deliberation and care.

9. Maintaining proprietary information or exercising rights under patents or copyright.

The report also signalled "red light" areas of state intervention in the Internet:

10. Governments should exercise substantial caution in entering markets in which private sector firms are active

11. Governments (including government corporations) should generally not aim to maximise net revenues or take action that would reduce competition.

12. Government should only be allowed to provide goods or services for which appropriate privacy and conflict-of-interest protections have been erected.

The Stiglitz-Orzag report was written for the US market, but the general principles are useful guides for all states. The trouble is that Snowden showed that the US government might have failed to follow some of these guidelines. We do know that governments are becoming increasingly intrusive on the Internet, and that such intrusion inhibits competition and innovation.

Because the Internet is evolving very fast, the role of government in Web affairs also needs to evolve. Businesses are becoming even more service and information-oriented, with increasing numbers going digital and in the "Cloud". This means that governments are struggling with three major issues: protecting private privacy, ensuring a level playing field in competition, and taxing online activities.

Governments must also sort out jurisdictional duties and powers, because the Cloud is global, and taxation and regulation is not only national, but departmental. It is as if each small part of the bureaucracy is trying to regulate the whole Cloud. We can all touch and feel its power, but there is no overall central authority that can control the Cloud.

An island nation in the Pacific might pass a law on the Cloud, but could it enforce it?

Individual privacy is being threatened by the practice of hacking, and the biggest hackers are not bedroom-bound nerds, but governments everywhere.

The second problem of a level playing field is a serious one. If Google has maps and can monitor everything I do through my smartphone, does that information belong to Google or to me? If it belongs to the large platforms, does that not confer a huge informational advantage on them? How can governments ensure that there is a level playing field between these massive online platforms and the small businesses that have no such information or may have to pay the platform for it?

The third area is taxation. Online commerce has escaped the tax radar because it is new. In contrast, bricks-and-mortar shops have rents, create jobs and pay value-added taxes. If everything moves online, the government loses the ability to tax, and bricks-and-mortar retail shops will complain they are losing out to larger and larger platforms. Bookshops around the world are closing in droves now that everyone can order through Amazon.

There are no easy answers to these tough questions. The interdependent and interconnected nature of the Internet means that regulatory or government action in one part may affect the system as a whole. In other words, government action or non-action creates a shadow system - the business moves offline, offshore or into cyberspace.

What we need is better transparency, better education, wider access and also some key principles of fair competition that should be enforced for online business to innovate.

Finally, a year-end reminder: use your smartphone in the toilet, and someone (not Snowden) can hear you flush. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to all.


Contributed by Andrew Sheng, President of the Fung Global Institute.

Related posts:
1. You are being snooped on, Malaysia views US-NSA spying seriously!
2.US, Britain spying on virtual world, agents pose as gamers..
3. Educate public on changes in e-technology, CAP urg...
4..USA Spying, the Super-Snooper !
5. NSA secretly hacks, intercepts Google, Yahoo daily...
6. Abusing intelligence is stupid
7. Brazil attacks US over spying issue
8. US Spy Snowden Says U.S. Hacking China Since 2009
9. Upset over US cyber spying! 
10. No privacy on the Net !
11. US building new spy wing to focus on Asia

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Learn and look to China for space technology

The Jade Rabbit moon rover is seen in a picture taken by a camera on board the Chang'e-3 probe lander on December 15, 2013 (CCTV/AFP, CCTV)

IT was a fitting tribute to China for successfully landing a lunar rover on the moon on Dec 14.
The Chinese people must be proud of their achievement for it was the Chinese who invented the gun powder which was a precursor to the rocket.

Not only China, but all developing countries or the Third World shared the joy and achievement which was thought impossible to be achieved by a developing country.

Being a superpower, it is only right that China should take its place beside the United States and Russia in space exploration.

The country has come a long way since the infamous Cultural Revolution to show its might in science and technology.

It has paved the way for other developing countries to emulate China’s feat, which may not ­necessarily be in space exploration.

The successful lunar rover touched down “... on an ancient 400km wide plain ...” has restored the great civilisation that it had, long before other countries had invented rudimentary science and technology.

By landing its lunar probe on the moon, China had put smiles on all her past emperors and leaders who had painstakenly built the great nation which is now the envy of many.

Perhaps Malaysia will now look at China too besides the US and Russia in acquiring space technology by sending more students and scientists there.

Since the bamboo curtain has been dismantled, there is much that China can offer Malaysia in space science.


By HASSAN TALIB Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia

China 'ready' to launch Mars mission

Photo: Xinhua

China is likely to expand its horizon in space travel by possible Mars exploration, expert said.

After the unmanned Chang'e-3 successfully completed its soft-landing on the moon, people from both home and abroad have been wondering whether China will send probes to Mars, which has become a key goal for many foreign space organizations.

According to the chief designer of China's lunar probe program, Wu Weiren, China is ready.

"We have the potential to go there in the wake of the successes of the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions," Wu said at a news conference held in Beijing on Tuesday, adding that the final decision is up to the government, Xinhua News Agency reported.

"We follow our own approach that respects stable progress and dislikes rash and reckless moves," he said. "We don't want to compete with any country in this regard."

Wu added that the Long March-5 rocket series with the maximum thrust of 1,100 tons can ensure the sending of a Martian probe.

"In terms of the carrying capacity of the rocket and the tracking and control system, China is capable of sending Martian probes," Pang Zhihao, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Pang said that the two deep space monitoring stations in China have shown their ability tracking Chang'e 2, which is about 64 million kilometers from Earth.

"But China still needs to build deep space monitoring stations abroad to make up for blind measurements to track deep space detectors round the clock," Pang said.

Furthermore, as scientists around the world have been exploring the possibility of living on the moon, the research on bioregenerative life support systems, which hold much promise for planetary bases, has been conducted in China.

The Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics has recently been praised for its work on closed ecological systems suitable for growing plants in outer space, according to the university's website.

Wu also noted that compared with the US spending 2 to 2.5 percent of GDP on its lunar exploration program at that time, China's input - only a few ten-thousands of the country's GDP - is not very much.

Besides, only about 40 percent of the 118 lunar probe attempts by the US and the Soviet Union during the space race in the 1960s and 1970s had been successful, while China's Chang'e-1 to Chang'e-3 missions have all succeeded, he said.

Although China has not officially announced any intention to fly a human mission to the moon, the door is now open and - if they have the will - nothing will stand in their way, said James Longuskian, associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics .

Contributed By Fang Yang Global Times

 Related post:

China's lunar probe Chang'e-3 landing on the Moon a success

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Five tech-powered changes in next five years, IBM predicted


Technology stalwart IBM on Tuesday predicted classrooms getting to know students and doctors using DNA to customize care are among five big changes on the horizon.

IBM said that its annual forecast of five ways technology will change lives in the coming five years was "driven by a new era of cognitive systems where machines will learn, reason and engage with us in a more natural and personalized way."

And while software evolves to "think" in ways similar to the human brain, computing power and troves of data kept handy in the Internet "cloud" will enable machines to power innovations in classrooms, local shops, doctors' offices, city streets and elsewhere, according to the firm behind the Watson computer that triumphed on US television game show Jeopardy.

"Over time these computers will get smarter and more customized through interactions with data, devices and people, helping us take on what may have been seen as unsolvable problems by using all the information that surrounds us and bringing the right insight or suggestion to our fingertips right when it's most needed," IBM contended.


Predictions for the coming five years included "classrooms of the future" equipped with systems that track and analyze each student's progress to tailor curriculum and help teachers target learning techniques.

"Basically, the classroom learns you," IBM vice president of innovation Bernie Meyerson told AFP. "It is surprisingly straight-forward to do."

In another prediction, IBM sees retail shops large or small blending online and real-world storefronts with 'Watson-like' technologies and augmented reality.

Also, doctors will tailor treatments using patient DNA, according to Meyerson.

"Knowing your genetic make-up lets you sort through a huge variety of treatment options and determine the best course to follow," he said.

"They don't have to carpet bomb your body to treat cancer," Meyerson continued. "There is the ability to tailor the attack to improve the efficacy against cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched."

Smart machines tapping into the Internet cloud will also be able to serve as "digital guardians" protecting people from hackers by recognizing unusual online behavior, such as shopping binges at dubious websites, and spying scam email messages or booby-trapped links.

"The digital guardian will know you are not someone who goes to a poker site and tops off your account," Meyerson said. "Not only does it shut down the behavior, but it tracks it back to who is doing it and passes the information on to authorities."

The final prediction was that cities will weave social networks, smartphones, sensors, and machine learning to better manage services and build relationships with citizens.

"The city will help you live in it," Meyerson said. "There is a new generation of leaders coming in who are extremely tech savvy and making good use of it."

Sources: AFP-Times

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Asian students dominate global exam; Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves?

Memento: In this file photo, parents take pictures of their children outside a high school in Beijing after they finished their national college exams. — AP

AS a ninth-grader, Shanghai’s Li Sixin spent more than three hours on homework a night and took tutorials in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry on the weekends.

When she was tapped to take an exam last year given to half a million students around the world, Sixin breezed through it. “I felt the test was just easy,” said Sixin, who was a student at Shanghai Wenlai Middle School at the time and now attends high school.

The long hours which focused on schoolwork — and a heavy emphasis on test-taking skills — help explain why young students like Sixin in China’s financial hub once again dominated an international test for 15-year-olds called the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

Students from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — all from Asia — were right behind. In the wealthy city of Shanghai, where affluent families can afford to pay for tutors, the results are not representative of China overall, although they are ranked as a group alongside national averages for countries such as the United States and Japan.

Still, they are indicative of education trends in China and elsewhere in Asia — societies where test results determine entrance into prestigious universities and often one’s eventual career path.

Shanghai scored an average of 613 on Maths, as compared with the nearest rival Singapore (573), and the global average of 494. Hong Kong ranked third in Maths, scoring 561, while Japan was ranked seventh and scored 536. The test is given every three years.

In China, educators say hard work is key to their students’ impressive showing. “They listen carefully in the class and do their homework,” said Bai Bing, the headmaster of Sixin’s school, where about 40 students were chosen to take the global test.

Still, Chinese educational experts say the results are at most partial and covers up shortcomings in creating well-rounded, critical thinking individuals. “This should not be considered a pride for us because overall, it still measures one’s test-taking ability. You can have the best answer for a theoretical model but can you build a factory on a test paper?” asked Xiong Binqi, a Shanghai-based scholar on education.

“The biggest criticism is that China’s education has sacrificed everything else for test scores, such as life skills, character building, mental health, and physical health,” said Xiong.

“Shanghai is an exception, and it is by no means representative of China,” said Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal at the High School Attached to Tsinghua University in Beijing. “It’s an international city where its residents pay great attention to education and where there are many universities.”

Affluent Shanghai parents annually spend an average of 6,000 yuan (RM3,190) on English and Math tutors and 9,600 yuan (RM5,100) on weekend lessons.

Shanghai Normal University president Zhang Minxuan said Pisa does not measure students’ social abilities, physical health and aesthetics, and he cautioned against extrapolating to the rest of the country.

“Shanghai students’ top placement in Pisa is no proof of equal development of education in China,” he said, as reported by Shanghai Education News. “There’s no denying, China’s education still has a long way to go.”

By Didi Tang — AP
  
Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves?

Andreas Schleicher Andreas Schleicher

Whenever an American or European wins an Olympic gold medal, we cheer them as heroes. When a Chinese does, the first reflex seems to be that they must have been doping; or if that's taking it too far, that it must have been the result of inhumane training.

There seem to be parallels to this in education. Only hours after results from the latest PISA assessment showed Shanghai's school system leading the field, Time magazine concluded the Chinese must have been cheating. They didn't bother to read the PISA 2012 Technical Background Annex, which shows there was no cheating, whatsoever, involved. Nor did they speak with the experts who had drawn the samples or with the international auditors who had carefully reviewed and validated the sample for Shanghai and those of other countries.

Others were quick to suggest that resident internal migrants might not be covered by Shanghai's PISA sample, because years ago those migrants wouldn't have had access to Shanghai's schools. But, like many things in China, that has long changed and, as described by PISA, resident migrants were covered by the PISA samples in exactly the way they are covered in other countries and education systems. Still, it seems to be easier to cling to old stereotypes than keep up with changes on the ground (or to read the PISA report).

True, like other emerging economies, Shanghai is still building its education system and not every 15-year-old makes it yet to high school. As a result of this and other factors, the PISA 2012 sample covers only 79 per cent of the 15-year-olds in Shanghai. But that is far from unique. Even the United States, the country with the longest track record of universal high-school education, covered less than 90 per cent of its 15-year-olds in PISA – and it didn't include Puerto Rico in its PISA sample, a territory that is unlikely to have pulled up US average performance.

International comparisons are never easy and they are never perfect. But anyone who takes a serious look at the facts and figures will concede that the samples used for PISA result in robust and internationally comparable data. They have been carefully designed and validated to be fit for purpose in collaboration with the world's leading experts, and the tests are administered under strict and internationally comparable conditions. Anyone who really wants to find out can review the underlying data.

Short of arguments about methodology, some people turn to dismissing Shanghai's strong performance by saying that Shanghai's students are only good on the kind of tasks that are easy to teach and easy to test, and that those things are losing in relevance because they are also the kind of things that are easy to digitise, automate and outsource. But while the latter is true, the former is not. Consider this: Only 2 per cent of American 15-year-olds and 3 per cent of European ones reach the highest level of math performance in PISA, demonstrating that they can conceptualise, generalise and use math based on their investigations and apply their knowledge in novel contexts. In Shanghai it is over 30 per cent. Educators in Shanghai have simply understood that the world economy will pay an ever-rising premium on excellence and no longer value people for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.

PISA didn't just test what 15-year-olds know in mathematics, it also asked them what they believe makes them succeed. In many countries, students were quick to blame everyone but themselves: More than three-quarters of the students in France, an average performer on the PISA test, said the course material was simply too hard, two-thirds said the teacher did not get students interested in the material, and half said their teacher did not explain the concepts well or they were just unlucky. The results are very different for Shanghai. Students there believe they will succeed if they try hard and they trust their teachers to help them succeed. That tells us a lot about school education. And guess which of these two countries keeps improving and which is not? The fact that students in some countries consistently believe that achievement is mainly a product of hard work, rather than inherited intelligence, suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling the values that foster success in education.

And even those who claim that the relative standing of countries in PISA mainly reflects social and cultural factors must concede that educational improvement is possible: in mathematics, countries like Brazil, Turkey, Mexico or Tunisia rose from the bottom; Italy, Portugal and the Russian Federation have advanced to the average of the industrialised world or close to it; Germany and Poland rose from average to good; and Shanghai and Singapore have moved from good to great. Indeed, of the 65 participating countries, 45 saw improvement in at least one subject area. These countries didn't change their culture, or the composition of their population, nor did they fire their teachers. They changed their education policies and practices. Learning from these countries should be our focus. We will be cheating ourselves and the children in our schools if we miss that chance.

International comparisons are never easy and they aren't perfect. But PISA shows what is possible in education, it takes away excuses from those who are complacent, and it helps countries see themselves in the mirror of the educational results and educational opportunities delivered by the world's leaders in education.
The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. And the task for governments is to help citizens rise to this challenge. PISA can help to make that happen.

Andreas Schleicher is deputy director for Education and Skills, and special adviser on education policy to the OECD's Secretary General.

In response to criticisms and questions regarding the validity of high scores achieved by 15-year-olds from Shanghai, China, in the recent PISA assessment, he posted this article to the OECD's education blog http://oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.fr/.

Sources: The Sydney Morning Herald

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