Saturday, 31 October 2009

HIV Medicines Patent Pool Campaign

90% of children with HIV-AIDS are from Africa. That's 2,000,000 children who are impoverished and cannot afford the cost of these very expensive drugs. It costs as much as USD5,000 per person per year to pay for these drugs.

Learn more about the global effort to help the bottom billion - watch the video

I have signed the petition. What's keeping you?

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Count Down 2010

One of the pleasures of being an academic is that you can have really long lunches. Just came back from lunch with a group of graduates and students, a few of them having volunteered with Kampus Sejahtera. Best part of it was they paid for the lunch at Queensbay. Happy Birthday Chern Chung (did I spell it right) and thanks to for the lunch.

Over lunch I sat with a second year computer science student and tried to pick her brains about sustainability. Yes, she and her friends still occasionally tau pau with The White Coffin. Sometimes cannot help it, she said because it is so inconvenient to bring the tapauware. Of course, she is being much more influenced by her boyfriend (that Abe guy) and so she sometimes tries to "preach" green with her friends (she admits she is not as green as the BF), about not using polystyrene for instance. Initially, her friends give her the wield look. Then they will start avoiding her. She is also one of the first year students who last year got a free GoFlex collapsible tupperware container. Has she used it? Yes, once or twice (in one and half years). Her advice is, don't give people free gifts. They don't understand what it is for.

And I think that is true for probably 90% (I am exaggerating of course) of the staff and students. What's this thing, "sustainability"? Why can't we use polystyrene containers?

The unfortunate thing about me is that I am too observant. At about 11 am this morning, I walked over to see my old pal at CenPRIS and while waiting for the previous visitor to leave, I saw one of the staff walked into the pantry with a white plate full of food. My antenna immediately went hyperactive. I could not sit there anymore. I walked through the door (from where the staff had just come in), noticed the crowd downstairs, saw all the people eating happily away and stacks of polystyrene plates on the buffet spread. I walked down, bump into VC's steno. I asked, who's the organiser? "Koperasi USM. There, the Chairman is over there", she pointed. I took one of the plates, confirmed that it was polystyrene and headed for the Chairman. By the time I got close he was already sitting down with a big group of members of the cooperative. Many "big shots" were there, including the Chief Librarian. I didn't bother to do a head count. I did a backtrack and let them enjoy their lunch. Back at the office I asked my clerk whether she was at the lunch. She said yes. Did you eat at the lunch? Yes!

First there was the Raya Open house at Chancellory, then Chemistry, then Mechanical Engineering and then Computer Science. Now it even more blatant. I have detected used polystyrene containers outside the studio at HBP and in the rubbish heap at Education.

So, start the count down! To what, you asked? 2010. Still don't get it?

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Climate Change Busters

Volunteer activists with in USM are organising a cycling event on 24th October 2009 (Saturday), 10.00 am at USM to raise awareness of climate change. All are welcomed.

The cycling route:
Kayak House / Mosque --> Batu Uban Gate --> Jalan Pekak --> Jalan Sg. Dua --> Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah --> Changkat Minden 1 --> Changkat Minden 7 --> USM Minden Side Gate --> USM Field (take pictures) --> kayak house.

       Please bring a small towel, enough water to quench your thirst and a good mood. Feel free to bring along your friends and family. Contact for more information or if you need to borrow a bicycle.


Saturday, 17 October 2009


Are we still talking about university world ranking? Not done yet? I saw two letters written by my USM colleagues in The Star and Sun newspapers. I thought they were rather sarcastic, praising UM, yet being defensive about people who don't want to play the game. Enough of that?

Ah, but we can't get enough of being ranked or rated. Even sustainable campus efforts are getting rated. That's why I am seeing STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System), an effort in North America to rate all the public universities (they call it endowed universities) according to a set of sustainability criteria. Guess what? Harvard still came up in the Top 10! The big difference in this is that they are totally (?) transparent. All details submitted by the universities in the survey form are published on the website. No, it does not insist on an external audit as yet. The criteria seems quite clear, though there are some who dispute how points are given. For instance, should hybrid vehicles be awarded points under alternative fuel? It is not a ranking system, but a rating system. So, no university can really claim to be in what top position on top of who.

I believe their main intention is to push all public universities to become "sustainable" by publicly showing where each of them stand. Can universities opt out? I believe so. Private universities can opt in, but they have to pay for the cost of the survey (not much, about $700).

The big question of course it whether all those criteria actually measure sustainability. It's essentially still a numbers game. And I am still cracking my head how USM can stand apart. Not that we want to be different. But to make a difference.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Brotherhood of the Duck 2

 Loh Ark (5-spice Duck), my mom's secret recipe.

Abalone Herbal Double-boiled chicken. Double-boiler inherited from mother-in-law. Secret recipe from any supermarket.

 Loh Bak, a Penang favourite. Secret recipe from mother-in-law. Well, we imagined it.

 The Rofes and the Locks from Adelaide and Sydney.

 Ah, the brotherhood of the duck. To join, you have to share a duck head. Not just any duck head but one cooked by me.

I still "hearts" (luv) usm

Hey, lighten up. It's all a business. If you want to move up the rankings, there are "people" who can "help" you. You just got to pay. The feeding frenzy is still on in the papers today. The UPM VC said that his university  performed better last year but dropped in the rankings anyway and then rationalised the rankings as being "dynamic and subjective". Keyword : SUBJECTIVE.

I'll bet if we send survey forms to the Ozzies students from Adeliade, our rankings will be skyhigh. Don't believe me? See for yourselves ....

Perhaps, and this a serious "perhaps", we should give more weight to what students think of the universities.

Bye, bye Ozzies. They had their final presentation on Friday afternoon and it was the best ever. Seven years! Now we want to talk about MOU and MOA. OK, I know it's inevitable. I can't resist. I will have to contribute to the KPI.

That same morning I was at the g Hotel along Gurney Drive for the heritage conference. I thought I would be enjoying the fabulous buffet spread. Nah, as usual, they rope off an area and gave us the normal food. The turnout was quite incredible, given that the participants have to pay. I was one of the discussants on the role of government and laws and enforcement in heritage conservation. I think I made some people really really unhappy. So what's new? I made the senior admin at INSPEN a little annoyed too the previous day. Just me and my big mouth. On the other hand, some participants told me they quite agree with what I said. I said several things, but one thing I said was that MPPP (the local authority) should be ashamed of itself. I was comparing with Vigan city in Philippines (the mayor presented a casestudy) which only have a budget of only $4.5 million and did some impressive things. Whilst MPPP has an annual budget of what, RM100 million a year? How are we spending all that money, I asked? We spend the money to throw rubbish in Pulau Burung (the landfill) whilst Vigan has some very sustainable practices (e.g. composting). Master plans, laws, management plans? We got all those. We know, we need to do all those things. And we have achieved much. That cannot be denied. Then why is it that during the Hari Raya long break the local authority had to set up a special task force together with the heritage NGOs to be vigilant against illegal demolition of heritage buildings. Yes, there was report from the ground that many building owners were "preparing to start work" just before the long break.

Ask the people of Penang whether George Town should be conserved, the majority say yes. Will they live in George Town? Majority say no. They prefer the modern housing in Bayan Baru or Tanjung Bungah. I asked, what's the problem? Is it politics? Why is there a disconnect between what the government and NGOs want and what the people, especially heritage building owners want?

So are we spending money in the right places? The RM25 million promised for heritage work by the previous Prime Minister? Embargoed (like many Federal fundingsand projects).  Politics at play. They still don't get it.

Looks familiar? Yah beautiful hall. Nice air-conditioning, I remarked to a colleague that next time they should have the conference on the streets of George Town, like the hungry ghost festival. This was a State-sponsored event but I guess they still have not got a grasp on zero waste or sustainability. On the long table for speaker and panelist on stage were green glass bottles of Perrier water. I scrutinised the label. Imported all the way from South Australia.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

World's Best Airport

Am sitting here watching the shuttle train going back and forth between the main terminal and the satellite terminal. Painted on the side of the train in huge orange lettering are "world's best airport". And I wonder how they get the title. I look out to my right and I see a few planes parked at gates. It's not so busy. I don't see the huge crowds I saw in LA and Chicago and Paris or Hong Kong. The free WiFi in the general areas of the terminal is mostly bad. So what really makes a good airport? What does it take to be the best? It's all about customer satisfaction of course. I was on the plane from Paris and the caucasian guy who chatted with me at the departure gate happened to sit next to me on the plane (I actually exchanged seats with a French husband and wife couple who got split up by the check in staff; crazy isn't it?). Well the guy next to me was in huff. He's been a faithful MAS Enrich customer for like 11 years flying frequently out of KL. And when you are Enrich member you apparently can pick the seat you want. He chooses an aisle seat in the back rows; in the hope that there will be empty seats which he can convert into a bed. Well he did not get his aisle seat; and there was not empty seats. So, he was pretty upset. "Eleven years of faithful Enrich membership. This is what I get. No more!", he said. . Eventually, they moved him to an aisle seat.

Customer satisfaction. What others think of you. That's also what happens with the World Ranking of universities. They ask an international audience what they think of the universities. So that's why universities are spending tons of money networking and linking with international bodies and universities. I was glancing at the recently released ranking and USM moved only about one inch in the rankings. Of course, UM is hyping about their 230 position and huge movement up; and asking for RM200 million to move further up. Well, joy to them. Publish or perish. Everything else doesn't matter.  The VCs are all only interested in rankings. Ban polystyrene on campus? Who cares? (Vivian, my boss says we can assist you if you need to pressure the university to go green).

But the best part of all this ranking is that there is no external or independent audit. Get it?

My flight back to Penang has been delayed; good thing the host of the conference bought me a business class ticket. So, I can enjoy some "free" expresso, have bowl of pseudo-Vietnamese Beefball noodles (my opinion? it's really pseudo) and have wireless broadband.

It was a good outing at the INSPEN campus. I made my final final presentation of the research project they funded. A couple of members of the audience disputed our findings (mainly based on their personal experiences on the ground). That's really good. That's how research should be done. There were 98 students from the property management course at UTM (Johor Baru) in the audience. I must say I was impressed with the turn out. What was more impressive was that as I was leaving my seat and walking to lunch, I was swarmed by about 20 or 30 of the students eager to probe and challenge me with questions. I was a little stunned. But impressed. By their daring to just come up and ask the speaker. And their drive to know.

But I think the best part was meeting an old friend, Abu Bakar from my undergraduate days. Of course I took a while to recognise him, aided by his nametag. Big man now in charge of implementing government housing projects throughout Malaysia. 500 staff under him spread throughout the country. I said I only have one staff and already have a headache. He must be a damn good manager. Also the fact that he showed up for the conference said so too. Ability to delegate. I asked him what's the prospect like at the top? Opportunities are still there; still got quite some time before compulsory retirement. OK, Bakar, see you at the top. Ah, make that, you at the top. Me? I don't know. Heh, heh, I got nowhere to go.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Barbie not Babi

The Ozzies from Adelaide are here again. Seven years in a roll (heh, make that "row"). What started out as a informal conversation (over beer, I think) with Steve Hamnett in Hanoi is going to become "mainstream", signed sealed, and one point for the KPI. I won't resist the inevitable. What's good for the School and the University, must also be good for the students? And for me? Who knows?

We had a session yesterday and I was leading the discussion, I said that the students will all have to  jump in to help with the "barbie" on Friday dinner; our traditional farewell after the final presentation and after two weeks of trials and tribulations. My students went "Huh? What?". I said "barbie" as in "barbeque"; you know the Ozzies passionate term for BBQ? "Oh", said my students.

I didn't think much about it until later. Oh, I get it. I think the USM students thought I was talking about "babi"; you know as in pig? Yah, that's cross-cultural learning for you.

They wanted banana leaf rice, so we went to Brown Garden. We used our hands to eat of course. Matthew beside me and for the first time in Penang, Jon, the head of planning at UniSA.