Our Normals Malaise

In Malaysia, behind closed doors, and then some, we have open discussions of entitlement to rents, the importance of political animosities, and the perpetuation of racial segregation.

If you speak of a fair and free Malaysia, I am curious if you are unfamiliar that what is written above is norm, or if you are aware of it, and prefer to speak only of the preferred ideal where none of this exists...

Python Studies


Note on packaging landscape, September 2014.

March 2013.

A previous mess: June 2012.




"a viable financial model for journalism"

Apparently what Bezos spends a day per month doing... at the Post.

I have a solution. It's simply a Kickstarter for content. And that makes it scaleable to any size of growth, for any sort of content, professional, amateur, fiction, non-fiction.

It's been done. It will be done more.

Dark Knights - Can You Take It?

After a couple of days of hanging out with folks there, while I'm on vacation. And hearing of incredibly sexist remarks allegedly made by the chairman of the institution, on stage.

My comment on a thread, discussing the efficacy of Hogwarts:
B(pundit) Hello! I'd like to respond to some of your points. I've spoken with C(executive) and C(pundit) variously about my point of view on the efficacy of quangos in MY, so let me just throw it out again here, since this seems like a wonderfully coherent thread on the subject. (I'd appreciate more participants, and a broader public discourse on most issues in MY.)

In the graph of opinions about this topic, it seem to me that you and C(pundit) are of the "Hogwarts seems like a waste of money - trying things that have been tried before and failed; so we'll point that out; we should take less risk with government/MY money; stop messing around now," camp... and C(executive)'s of the "Hogwarts has potential, we're still trying stuff out, give us a chance," camp.

I'd like to explicitly add one more card to the table. Some of us who work in Malaysia have the view that "we have to waste money on A in order to get access to money to do B." That is to say, we have a high tolerance for bullshit, the sort of bullshit that MY has been for decades, and which may go on for decades more - graft, allocation of ministerial positions based on party hierarchy, and laundering of money through ministries for reasons totally irrelevant to public interest.

This is not a new view - a lot of people I know who've worked at PEMANDU, and in various think tanks, etc. arguably even the top executives of these themselves acknowledge such economics, whether they will admit it in public or not. Now, I'd like to be optimistic, and hope that a number of the executives at Hogwarts are of like mind - fully aware of the political environment that we live in, aware that there may be a 90:10 ratio between waste and value, but willing to put up with it in order to get access to the 10% that matters. [Hopefully of course, the efficiency of the budget say, 70 MM MYR, is greater than 10%. I'd personally venture that the laundering of funds through construction projects is probably greater than that PER MONTH in some of the ministries with the largest budgets in town.]

To summarise, I hope we can all agree on the following.

1. In Malaysia's budgets, there is waste.
2. There should be less waste.
3. Let's waste no time in reducing the waste.
4. It might take a while to optimise this problem.
5. In order for the public to automatically monitor the thieves, whomever they may be, the priority is to increase the degree of public discourse on these subjects.
6. (5.) is painful because it requires us all to tolerate different views, but as a result it's good intellectual/emotional exercise. It also lets us prefer civil discourse over physical violence (ehehe, theoretical ideal).

Just 2 sen on that.

(Where I'm coming from - 31 yo; grew up in Sentul, read the MY papers till 1998, and stopped - thenceforth held a view that MY would only see fairer politics 20-30y from then; lived in the US for 5y, and have been back working in KL for 9y; somewhat involved in startups by accident, since my hobbies are rather technical.)

Further down the thread, on the economics of waste:

Just wanna throw more numbers out there for perspective (to be clear Hogwarts, is not in the 2015 allocation per se):
- MY budget 2015 : RM273 billion (unit 100%)
- 2015 MoEd allocation: RM56 billion (20.5%)
- Hogwarts allocation: RM0.07 billion (0.026%)
- Oil & Gas revenue (40%)
- oil prices currently lowest since 2010, down ~30% in a few months [ http://touch.investing.com/commodities/brent-oil-advanced-chart ]
- global equities currently coming off the top of an ALL TIME high (read: what goes up, must...)
What I'm trying to show here is that waste at Hogwarts is trivial, from a national perspective. There are much bigger bogeys on radar... both weaknesses and threats. 
Waste at Hogwarts can only be addressed by systematic change beyond the mandate of its staff. It's in the hands of the citizenry. 
[That being said, as a chap who makes a point to register but never vote (so far), I am going to trot back into a corner to mind my own little business now...]

Further down the thread, on what Hogwarts is doing right so far (IMO):
They've been running what... 6 months? I'll say there's positive benefit to:

1. The approach of: doing a survey of the funding/new-business/gov-support landscape before flooring the pedal on their own opex, is commendable. (They've talked about their findings, but not their plans - clearly because some are never clear until PMO publicises it. Yeah, we'd all like to see more public planning, so that the public can criticise/contribute, but I think that's a fat hope - maybe they'll prove me wrong on this.)

2. You may have noted http://www.mymagic.my/central/ , which seems like a good API over the mess of government agencies that they identified in (1.) - do you think this is repeat work, or that no one every bothered to do it before? Honest question; I don't know. I have pitched variously that there should be a simpler online self-help system to "knowledge manage" all the available resources for entrepreneurs - right now it's pretty much call-centre/form-submission-we'll-get-back-to-you, if I understand it correctly.

3. The overall focus is on training noobs, and building networks, not on handing out grant monies. [Grant monies that will be issued are (said on the street) to be from a separate ministerial budget allocation, not from Magic's own seed funding of 70MM.] Is the quality of training equal to Thiel Fellowships, Y-comb, etc.? Doubt it... but they do have to start somewhere. There is a HUGE mess of undereducated citizens at the BOTTOM of the pyramid. Here's where we have to check the strategic mandate of Magic... is it (A) to work through the entire pyramid of talent for long-term returns in the nation's braintrust, or is it (B) to churn out a middle-class of high-performance "success stories" in the mid-term? I don't know for sure - but I get the sense that it's A, not B - they seem to be acting as if it's more A than B. E.g. the startup academy. [Update: upon reflection, my view is skewed - I'm rather privileged, so the ones they're really helping with the academy etc, are probably the middle-class... after all, the launch week training tickets were priced at what, RM150 minimum?]

4. They've got an ASEAN accelerator in the pipeline, which seems to be focused on bringing in more talent. Both this and the startup academy look like summer-camps to me. The quality of an educational experience is influenced by the diversity of students... so I'm pretty happy that they're only admitting some-% of the accelerator candidates from Malaysia, and the rest from ASEAN/other countries.

5. Like yourself, I'd like to see more transparency, both for the sake of check and balance, as well as to crowd-source feedback. For example:
- open up the books; put all of Magic's financial statements online
- invite the public to an "AGM" or similar meeting every quarter
- have a designated communications day at every EOM where all publicly announced plans are reviewed, benchmarks are compared to actual delivery, and updates on plans are announced.

6. Also... bit of a tag-on, I think they would benefit from trying to add more of a viral component to programs, i.e. designing programs that help citizen-X to help any other citizen-Y to achieve specific educational goals.

My thinking about this is more from my background as a educationist, so I appreciate your more bottom-line focused commercial view as well :)


Stating the Obvious

Get ready for the stratification of the knowledge worker. It's always been, and it'll just get more severe.


Social Calisthenics

Vacation Day 4. Social calisthenics.

I spent the day travelling with one set of relatives, on a sort of tour. I discussed with them food, and culture, and theology, and history, and language, and wills, and personal weaknesses, and best ways to deal with all the above. Then I spent a couple of hours with another set of relatives, at a sort of reunion. I discussed with them their work, the people whose lives they hope to change, the methods they have tested, and the results obtained (both surprising, and trite, to them), the economics of their workplaces, the economics of their politics, their living arrangements, and then some.

And the result, for me, was an appreciation only of the fact that I still know how to do this, even though I don't care for most of it. None of this makes me feel any more identified with these people, than I feel about nameless bodies whom I pass on the street. Don't get me wrong - in the short term, it's FUN to socialise, and move meat, and shake brains and all that, but upon reflection on this, and the set of all similar past events, and the set of potential future events, this day's events have added little to history.

History. Few act or think with regard to history. They deal with the past as a totem - they don't see it superpositioned with the present. They make a cake, then they eat it, and they boast about how great it is. Then they make another cake, and they do it all again. But they do not, when they eat the latter cake, experience it as a single mouthful with the former cake. Whereas in many things that I do, my memory is trained to compose them with relevant bits of the past, before I submit it to my consciousness. I wish more people did this, in general. I wish this were more of what popular culture calls, "a thing."

What does all this training give me? Very little, since of late, very little of my work has been authoritative social work. I have had many subordinate social roles in many organisations, or dominant technical roles. The limits of my social exercise at work come in the (extremely) common form thus, for example:

1. I see someone making a decision that I judge they will be likely to regret, months from now.
2. I warn them.
3. They acknowledge the warning, and decide to proceed as planned anyway.
4. I follow orders.
5. I begin preparing for their regret.
6. They arrive at their regret.
7. Heads roll. New orders arrive.
8. They reflect. They learn.
9. We have gentle discussions.
10. New decisions are made. I return to 1.

As little as interacting with the people around me (at work, and in life in general) contributes to my concerns, I do not, as some people do, allow this to nag me into seeking some sort of ephemeral ideal where I must surround myself with people who contribute to my concern. I merely acknowledge the facts, and pursue exercises to keep me in good shape for further socialising.

I wonder, if someday, all this socialising will become worthwhile.