Wednesday, 22 July 2009

One more bad apple

26 Jun in. 22 July out. That's almost one month. That's how long it took to get my skinny Mac back from the hospital.

We have one of those original tiny ipod (nano) bought probably a couple of years ago. Now it cannot be charged. The apple guy says its probably the battery. Apple's got this exchange programme. You turn in your old nano and they give you back a brand new one. Hey, cool. You think? You gotta pay RM300! Is is an upgrade or bigger capacity or what? Nope. Everything is the same. The only thing is it is brand new. How much does a new nano cost? RM599.

So, the old one is useless because you can't just change the batteries. And it cost half the price of new one to exchange your old one (which, did I say only needs a battery change?). And what happens to the old nano when Apple gets it back? Recycled? Straight to the graveyard? I checked their website and it says that can replace the battery for USD59 for the nano. So, what gives?

I know that Apple will take back your old batteries if you buy a new old. Apparently part of their green policy. But if you want to keep the old, it's OK too. What they do with it? They say they will dispose of it in an environmentally friendly manner.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Why we don't like to go to Penang Island

Going to Penang Island (apart from going to USM campus for work) is a chore. A really big chore. You are likely to get stuck in traffic everywhere you go, even close to midnight! But sometimes you have to make an exception. Last night was one. We went to Hydro at Batu Ferringhi for a cousin's daughter's wedding. We decided to go mainly to catch up with relatives, some whom we had not met for ages. Dinner was supposed to be 7 pm (sharp, says the invitation card). My nephew said 7 pm means 8 pm, if you are lucky. But the card says 7 pm sharp, I protested. Yah, Penang people is like that. Guaranteed.

We started from Air Tawar about 5 pm. What, 2 hours to get to Batu Ferringhi? Nah, we wanted to visit the twins first in Air Itam. We had gone shopping for some cute baby clothes during lunch. I vetoed the baby drinking bottle when I checked and found it was made of polycarbonate. Going to Air Itam was pretty smooth. Then we left Air Itam about 6.30 pm, making good time as I followed closely behind my nephew as he zipped through some by-pass to avoid the traffic at Gottlieb Road and the Tanjung Tokong Road. We got to the hotel carpark by 7 pm ... and what do you know. Still lots of empty carparking bays. Not a good sign. Everyone else must be late. And we were right. When the dinner was just about to start, my nephew held up his iPhone with a cute picture of daughter No. 1 (he's the one with the new twins). I looked at him. What? Right on time he said. Oh, its 7.59 pm. Damn, he's good at this. Must have been attending lots of dinners lately.

Dinner was, ah, generally speaking, not up to expectation. My wife had asked me whether the food there was any good since I stayed there for a few nights a few weeks ago. I said, not bad. I take it back. The Chinese dinner sucks. Even Jillian who eats a modest meal wanted to go get a burger at McD, so we said OK, along the way at the drive-thru near Free School. Poor girl, it's hard being daddy's daughter.

One of the dishes is advertised on the menu as "steam chicken in glass paper", something like that. When it came, I looked it and said, that's a plastic sheet. I tore out a piece to confirm. Yes, it's plastic. So I refused to eat. About 10 minutes later my sis-in-law asked Jillian why she was not eating. My daughter said "to support my daddy" - he's protesting against the use of the plastic in the chicken. That sort of gave my SIL a mild shock. She didn't think it was plastic. She would have avoided eating if she had known. Oh, my wife. She abstained too. It's hard being my wife too.

I did a google this morning and found this chatter about Por Lay Chua (or glass paper). What's interesting is that people generally know that plastic is bad for your health but they choose to differentiate between plastics which are bad and those which are considered safe for cooking. Hey, I am sure the Emperor won't have liked his Emperor Chicken cooked in plastic.

So, that's it? That's my beef about the horrendous traffic in Penang Island? Hey, I haven't got home yet, ok?

We left the hotel about 10.45 pm. It was pretty smooth until we hit Gottlieb Road and traffic seemed to be hardly moving even though we could see the traffic light was green up ahead. So we took a sideroad, ending up at the back of One-Stop Complex. No right turn, so turned left, saw the queue for the U-turn, decided to go straight ahead, ending up right in front of Gurney Plaza. Queued and then quite a smooth drive until we got near the Citibank. Saw the almost standstill traffic, speculated there must be some function the Esplanade. So turned into Larut Rd (I think), intending to go through Perak Road to get to the Bridge. Ah, long queue all the way. At the Dato Keramat junction, got on the wrong lane so did an "illegal" lane switch. Got to Perak Rd, missed the turning to get to Jelutong Road. Did a U-turn. Got to Jelutong Rd, should be plain sailing from now. Wrong! When we got the flyover at Green Lane (Jln Mesjid Negeri), there was a big jam. Police car lights flashing. Most be an accident. We were already near midnight. Some joker must have been drunk. Saw a Pinang tree severed into two. A lamp post bent. Inched our way along. "Don't look, keep moving", says my wife. Ah looked we did. Not a pretty sight. As usual, lots of busybodies with cars and motorbikes all parked everywhere looking for some cheap thrill.

Got to the Bridge at about midnight. Even knowing all the roads "at the back of our hands" took us a looong time. Oh, well, we got to see alot of places we have not seen to in a long time. It's going to be a long while before we go to Penang Island again for dinner. Not at the Batu Ferringhi beach, that's for sure.

p.s. Jillian didn't get her burger.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


Before you continue reading, let me warn you that parts of this post might be disturbing or make you uncomfortable. Proceed with caution and at your own risk.

This is our favourite char koay teow stall at Teluk Air Tawar. You can see our tiffin in the foreground. The guy pointed to the chicken rice stall and said that those "white things" (polystyrene foam of course) are "bad". I said the brown paper which he is using is also not so good because it's got a very thin layer of plastic laminate. Yah, he says. But what to do? I said, "tell your customers to bring their own containers". Cannot lah, he saids. Don't sell them lah, if they don't bring own container, I instigated. Then how to cari makan?, he asked.

One day I saw him peeling off the "skin" from the sausages and asked him why. He said that stuff is no good. I asked him what it is made off. He doesn't really know. I tried pulling off pieces and I said to the Char Koay Teow man, "it looks like plastic!" Does your Char Koay Teow man care so much about your health? (p.s. at home, my wife has been insisting on removing the "plastic" for years.)

Below are some random photos from my walks on campus.

Came across this experiment at HBP. The fan spins very fast when the air-con compressor is spewing out all the hot air. The spinning fan then generates electricity which is stored in a battery or perhaps can be directly used to power some appliance. Hey, here's a thought. The compressor spins the fan which generates electricity and if we feed back the electricity to the air-con unit, what to we get? Zero energy? Maybe close to zero? Well, this is one of the ideas you will find in the literature - recycling the waste energy. But here's more food for thought. It seems designers are able to now design buildings which are so comfortable that you don't need air-conditioning. Not possible in Malaysia?

The left is the original inter-locking pavements (which I hate). They wanted to create more space for pedestrians (and hurrah for that) so in comes a contractor who laid concrete slabs over the roadside drain to extend the pedestrian walkway. Sounds like a good idea. But our Class F contractors are really hopeless in their quality of work. It's a visual nightmare walking along the path. Perhaps we should change our thinking. Instead of just giving this small time contractors jobs, we should invest in upgrading their skills at the same time. Budget for pre-training - all class F contractors should be sponsored for skills development before being given jobs.

This piece of work is another good intention not quite right. There is actually a natural stream which runs from probably the Durian Valley or somewhere now buried underground in concrete pipes. When we did the campus planning, one of our suggestion was to bring back nature, dig up the culverts and pipe and recreate the natural stream. Now even the opening has been covered over. See the black metal covers? When there is a really heavy downpour, I anticipate that water will come rushing out of those covers and flood the place. Storm water is now recognised as an asset and the thinking now is to recovere our natural water courses. Back to the drawing board.

I hate banners, for some reason. This is what I call the banner farm. Yah good that we have given them a place to hang themselves - but banners are all over the place despite this. But what caught my attention was the CONVEX banner. Are your eyes playing tricks on you too? Do you see double? Yes, the same banner next to each other. But the content is even more disturbing. It says that limited numbers of application forms are available for people interested to take up stalls to do business at the Pesta Konvo (coming August). Hurry! And you have to pay for the forms. I wonder if it is to control wastage of the forms or to make money out of the forms. Both reasons to me doesn't make sense. Lestari? -ve 1.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Vegetable farming at swimming pool

I was tipped off by some volunteers of a Pak Cik who works at the swimming pool setting up a small vegetable farm so I asked for some photos. Wah, the leaves looks really healthy. I will visit it one day. I wonder if he is fully organic?

One of the things the Saujana students wanted to work on was a hydrophonic vegetable garden but I cautioned them about the concentrated chemicals used (hah, they said I "objected" to the idea). Actually, I wanted them to explore organic farming but they said they have constrain of space and if I remember correctly, poor quality soil.

Ah, but look what this Pak Cik managed to do. I am told they sometimes pluck the vegetables and ask the guys at Red House to cook a feast for them or give it to friends.

But did you notice something? The WHITE containers? Polystyrene of course. Won't it be nice if they used more natural type containers, like big earthen pots? I would gladly support that idea.

So, girls? And Pak Cik, macam mana?

postscript : After posting the above, I remembered having given quite a bit of money for an agro project at the Language School so I walked over to take a look. I wasn't too impressed with the progress. Lessons learnt : you don't need to spend a lot of money to do farming; and you need the right people to take care of it.

The photo below was from an earlier encounter. One of the things about the traffic law in campus is that the Security Office can only issue summons for student offenders. Staff can blatantly break the traffic rules without fear of penalty.

Hey, no one is using it, so might as well use it.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Racial polarisation and green chemistry

What has racial polarisation got to do with green chemistry? Ehmm, probably nothing. But it just so happened that I had two conversations with graduating students, one on racial polarisation (amongst other things) and the other, green chemistry, one after the other.

Racial polarisation is "a fact of life" on campus. It's there for everyone to see. But what does the term "racial polarisation" really mean, I asked the young lady. Well you can see the Malay students will sit in one corner of the lecture hall, the Chinese in another corner, and the Indians in between. They mix amongst themselves, eat amongst themselves, study amongst themselves. Is that it? Is there a feeling of hatred? Feelings of superiority of one over the other? Feelings of jealousies or envy? This is where it gets fuzzy. Nobody really wants to talk about it or dares to talk about it in the open (for fear of the consequences). But yes, a little bit of this and that. Of course, I have had students who say there really is no problem of racial polarisation on campus. "We just get along we each other" - "its the people outside campus who make into a political issue". Perhaps this is another important viewpoint. So, the next question I asked is "what can we do about it? what should we do about it?" Hhmm, tough one. She promises to think harder about that. Which brings me to a visit from a researcher who came to see me about measuring sustainability and proposed to measure racial polarisation on campus. I said, what for? We already know it's there. Perhaps we should measure what the universities are doing about it? Are we trying hard enough to work with all groups? Do we make the effort or just say, "its all up to them"?

OK, I see your finger pointed at me. I see many students here in my Kampus Sejahtera office. All shapes and sizes and colours. They tend to clique amongst their own races, which is fine. Do I try to make them work across races. I do, I do - but I make it a point not to compel. I try to create opportunities for them to be together. But it's tough. Ah, I heard that the student department was more successful this year in getting more Chinese and Indian students volunteers for the new students orientation programme. Making the effort is the first step.

And green chemistry? I had my simple lunch with two graduating chemists. Naturally I instigated them. Can USM focus entirely on green chemistry? For instance, we should only fund research and research fellowships (for post-grads) if they work on green, natural chemicals - nothing synthetic? It is the synthetic chemicals which are the major culprits of environmental pollution and health hazards. The response was intriguing. It we want to push our world ranking up, the fastest (or only) way to is to continue supporting synthetic chemistry (and the School of Chemical Sciences is one of the high flyers in publications) because it would take too long for green chemistry to get published. Why, you ask? Well, green means either we work on natural chemicals or we only invent chemicals which have no harmful impacts. That means we would have to subject it to rigorous and time-consuming life-cycle assessment. And most of the time we can't even tell how the chemical is going to be used in real life. Just look at plastics and polystyrene. The genius as DOW Chemical invented polystyrene but I am sure they didn't think about it becoming The White Coffin (or did they?). Talking of which I was at the Adventist Hospital in Penang to visit a pair of twins and found out that the hospital uses polystyrene containers for its patients. As I was leaving, I noticed a newspaper clipping in the lift proclaiming that polystyrence containers are safe for use. Hey, will someone tell them that it's the styrene that should worry about. Do they know styrene can migrate through the food? Do they know styrene is toxic (poisonous)? BTW, if you are having normal delivery it will cost RM2,000 - RM3,000 but a pair of twins will dig a big hole in your pockets (about RM10,000). For that kind of fees, don't they treat their patients with more tender loving care, instead of feeding them poisons? Yah, yah, I know, its a safe level of toxin. What kind of medical thinking is that?

Well, back to green chemistry. So, should USM as a sustainability-led university set a long-term target (maybe 20 years?) of focussing only on green chemistry?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

So here we go again

How long have I have "teaching"? Empteen years. A lonnng time lah. My classmate from university days drove up with his wife on a business-cum-pleasure trip and we had lunch at a Teo Chew Restaurant yesterday. Discovered that he just hopped to another company (he was with the previous firm for more than 10 years). So I asked "why"? "Big project", he said. Not more pay? No lah, payment increase only 10%. So, he wanted to retire with a big project under his belt. I guess that translate into looking for new challenges. Routine is boring. So, how long have I been in USM? 24 years! Would I pack up and leave for greater or new challenges? It has crossed my mind over the years, especially at one time when the bl***y dean was out to kill everbody ("either you are with me or you are against me"). Hey, I am ata point in my career where I can go for optional retirement and start new challenges. Ah, but life is too good to think about it seriously for now.

And so here we go again. The new academic year started yesterday. First class started at 9.30 am on the dot. It was our first planning studio session. And incredibly, every single student (18 in total) was there before the lecturers came in. And I congratulated them. Good start. Energy was there. Alert. Participatory. Responding. Eager. We will see next session coming friday. Will we take off?

I have said it before, every batch of student is different. Sometimes you inspire them. And they inspire you. Other times, it's one battle after another.

So, the new students are also here. This year the people organising the activities for the orientation (scaled down to 3 days of official stuff) had adopted a new philosophy. "Voluntary participation", except for a few required activities. So, if they don't show up, does it reflect on their "attidude"? I heard one senior management say that of you expect 150 and only 100 turn up, you knowlah, those other 50 have some "attitude problems". Did I get that wrong? I hope I did. I have organised dialogues with students leaders and the students say they hope/expect 100 to come. When I got there, less than 20 showed up. The organisers said they had tried their best putting signs and posters way into the night. Hey, I said that's fine. The show will go on. Interestingly, we asked one of the students why she bothered to come. She said she got an SMS saying it was compulsory to attend. But even then many didn't show. Making activities voluntary is an excellent first step to change the mindset. Except, the mindset of the organiers must change first. If people don't show up, suck in your breadth, and try harder. Hey, anybody can update me on how was the response to this new approach?

Michael provided this photo he called "camouflage". The roti is already wrapped in plastic so the organisers put it in a brown paper bag. So does it cancel out or make it worse?

New students attending a function were given roti and I think what looks like rice in a plastic container (PP). Michael asked some of the students what they will do with the PP container. "Throw away!" was the reply.

I was at a meeting in KOMTAR a couple of weeks ago and got a phone call. Someone on campus was tasked with organising an activity for one thousand students and wanted to give food and drinks. They said they had no problem with food. They will give the food in the biodegradable containers. I said that's not good enough. We need to aim for zero waste. Those bio-containers ending up in the landfill is not in line with zero waste. I said the organisers have to make sure they collect the bio-containers and send it for composting. So, I am guessing the organisers got cold feet on the composting and opted for the PP containers. Their assumption? The containers can be recycled or reused by the users. Wrong assumption. Organisers should be responsible for collecting back the containers for recycling or reuse. So, it was a failed effort. No trying hard enough.

What about drinking water? They know I have been lobbying and bugging people not to give water in plastic bottles (PET). So they asked, "what about drinks in tetrapacks"? I said, that's worse. They insisted I provide a solution. Simple. Tell the students to bring their own water in reusable bottles. Ah, I don't see any water in plastic bottles in the pictures. Did you see any, Michael?

We face the same dilemma all the time. The girls at Saujana brought up the same issue when I met them last friday. Not sure how they resolved it. Same issue is going to crop up during CONVEX, our convocation expo in Aug 2009. Had one discussion with the organiser; hope she follows through and not have cold feet like the lecturer.

But we are getting there ...

Saturday, 4 July 2009

One Bad Apple spoils the whole bunch

Ah, this is the life. Saturday after lunch of plain porridge. On my sofa, legs on the coffee table. Satellite TV on the flat screen. Doter (huh, learnt this from Shida) on the piano providing soft music.

My old Apple on my lap ... What? Yah, I did tell you my year-old Macbook Air was making a lot of noise. So, I backed up my data and sent it to the dealer (only ONE in Penang). They checked the records, "sorry, OOW". Yah, oow it is. Out of Warranty. And oow, it's going to hurt. As I suspected, the fan is all screwed up. Cost to replace? RM475!!! Wait, there's more. They tried to do mouth-to-mouth on the harddisk. Formatted it. It went nuts. Formatted one more time, OK, now can read but the experts think it will die anytime. Better change. 80 Gig. Got a bigger one? No, not for this machine. OK, how much to get a new one? RM800+. See, I told you it hurts. I told the guy at the dealer (nice guy, really) that if I had to dig into my own pocket I would be jumping up and down cursing the big Bad Apple. He smiles, knows I am indulging him, acts sympathic. What can he do? Shakes your faith in the Apple doesn't it? Oh, wait, did I tell you they can't go to any spare part shop to pick up the fan and the HDD? It's got to be ordered from Apple and will come flying in from who knows where. How long? Worst case scenario, three or four weeks. What!!!!? Well, worst case scenario. Optimistically maybe 2 weeks. Okkk, what can I do. Relax. Get a life. (Dear brother Wan Fauzy, if you are reading this, I agree, we got a life too, outside of USM).

Oh, I read about the Dell fiasco in Taiwan where tens of thousands of people ordered some 140,000 flat screen monitors for a song (ah, expensive song?), actually for like >90% discount. Dell said it was a mistake (like USM?) but the Taiwan consumer protection agency is telling Dell to honour the contract. You offer, I accept, we got a contract. Way to go Taiwan.

Oh, btw, maxis has sent me sms twice asking me to rate my last encounter with the aliens at their office (remember me telling them off asking for my wife's passport?). I have ignored them. Will see how persistent they are to "close the case". I suspect they must have an ISO9001 somewhere that requires that one tiny statistic from me.

Oh, I must congratulate Telekom Malaysia. One day I came back from office and found both phones dead. Of course it's my wife who later called up to report and enquire. The previous night my daugthers had been watching Internet TV until the wee hours. The next day, my eldest wanted to continue with Tar Chang Jing but couldn't. We thought it was just Streamyx being hopeless cloaked up again. Well, it looks like China is picking up again. There must be a lot more demand for scrap. The thieves stole our Internet. Actually, they stole the phone cables in our area. And these cables are underground. So, we were truly wireless for three days as the happy contractors replaced the cables. This is the second to happen to us, the first when we were at the old house.

Oh, why congratulate Telekoms? They promised to call my wife once the line was back. Well it came back. And my wife said she got a missed call when she was at a meeting. She thought it might have been them calling back. The next day, they called (again?) to tell my wife that everything is back online. "We know, thank you very much". Apparently they have to "close the case". OK, am slightly impressed. But, hey, can you guys make sure I get uninterrupted full pipe broadband? That would reallyyyyy impress me. I heard from my son that in Cyberjaya you could subscribe to 4 MBit broadband. But when my son's buddy went to register, they got only 1 MB; sorry no more port. What man, Multimedia Super Corridor already got traffic jam on superfast information highway?

And how did my wife call up Telekoms to report the breach? Cell phone of course. Weird isn't? Hmm, anybody heard of someone stealing a cellphone line?