Wednesday, 31 August 2011

About History

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.  ~ Plato, Ion

If we search the topic of history on Wikipedia, the answer is not as straight forward as what we expect. To some, history is a factual recording of events that happened in the past and, as they say, those facts never lie. However, my understanding of the discussion on the philosophy of history suggests that history also has the speculative dimension.

A case in point would be the events unfolding in the Middle East, dubbed as the Arab Spring revolution. Are they efforts to liberate people from opression or problems created by terrorists and troublemakers? It depends on which angle you are looking from, the people or those with power. To a certain extent, your values, philosophy and preference would influence how these events are understood and related to others. As the saying goes, there are two sides of the coin!

Then I did another thing, I googled about quotes about history. Interestingly, few examples that surfaced appear to be more cynical regarding what history represents. Something that I never thought of until now. Perhaps deep reflection on these historical events would allow us to be closer to the "truth", how painful they would be. Unless we only want to read what we want to read and don't really bother about "truth".

Perhaps this quotation from George Orwell (as reported by Wikipedia) summaries the debate about history: 

"George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is a fictional account of the manipulation of the historical record for nationalist aims and manipulation of power. In the book, he wrote, "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future." The creation of a "national story" by way of management of the historical record is at the heart of the debate about history as propaganda. To some degree, all nations are active in the promotion of such "national stories," with ethnicity, nationalism, gender, power, heroic figures, class considerations and important national events and trends all clashing and competing within the narrative"

A good topic for reflection as we move into another day of historic significant.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

World competitiveness in 2011 and beyond with Stéphane Garelli

At the eve of Aidil Fitri, all Malaysians are preparing themselves for a long break. Most Muslims will be heading towards their hometowns, leaving cities like Kuala Lumpur, not really empty, but to be enjoyed by close to 2 million foreign workers.

This celebration is at the middle of many crisis, felt around the globe. We have a very critical economic crisis in the US and Europe. Adding to that is the political crisis, predominantly lead by those in the Middle East, a hangover of the Arab Spring revolution.

For those who have time and perhaps wondering what is going on in the economic front, I believe this presentation by Professor Garelli of the IMD would provide some light of the reality of things. It was made in a very interesting way and certainly very insightful.

Happy learning.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

This is not a new news. Steve Jobs has relinquished his position as Apple CEO. I am not going to write a review about Steve but I thought his speech 2005 Commencement speech at Stamford is worth a while for us to reflect upon.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Fall of a regime - Live on TV

In the last few days we had the opportunity to observe the final surge of the Libyan rebels towards the capital, Tripoli. Some of us may agree or disagree with such action but the bottom line is the Gaddafi regime appears to have ended. Like other regimes built on fear and oppression, it crumbled at a double quick time when the fake support from the people was ultimately unveiled. 

The reputation of Gaddafi as somebody who opposes the West is well recorded. Not until when he decided to join the "was against terrorism" he was considered a terrorist himself. With his iron grip over most everything in Libya, his was very powerful. As in many other placed, a concentrated power would certainly lead towards abuses and cronyism. 

Do doubt the success of the rebellion or revolution, depending where your view comes from, was assisted by NATO who had been bombing the Gaddafi regime to "protect civilians" even until the dying days of the regime. Suddenly, an organisaton which acronym is synonymous with No Action Talk Only was very active militarily. I suppose the proximity of Libya to Europe and how much Libyan oil is consumed there were among the factors which motivated NATO to protect Libyans.

Well, we are in the Web 2.0 era where information flows at the speed faster that we could have imagine even 5 years ago. The inter-connectivity of people through various platforms and devices make censorship very archaic. There are still places where the official line is out of line with reality, as what we heard from Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's heir apparent. Even when the whole world knows the opposite, we was still adamant that they were in charge. Perhaps, this is one of the traits of any dictator, blinded from reality because of the power held. 

Looks like to avoid another Libya, citizens much ensure strong check and balance exist in the society to prevent any leader to grow into a monster which has no problem in abusing the power entrusted in him. Yes, ultimately we need to trust somebody. However, the trust must be complimented with effective institutions which are loyal to truth, justice and ultimately the people, you and me.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Wastage during the month of moderation?

In the Muslim world Ramadhan is celebrated as a month of moderation. Muslim refrain from eating and doing other things which will nullify their fast from dawn to dusk. This is also a month for generosity where donation to the less fortunate persons are encouraged.

While Ramadhan in this modern days does not change in its essence, how Muslims manifest their eagerness to seeing through Ramadhan has caused some concerns that the spirit could have been tainted. A news report from BBC on food wastage is an example of such concern.

Most hotels and restaurants see Ramadhan as an opportunity and offer various "Buka Puasa" or breaking the fast packages which could reach more than RM 100. While it is fair for people to spend their hard earn money wisely, sometimes the leftovers could be something that we need to worry about. On the other hand, there are people who may not have descent meal. I suppose we need to reflect which is the ways that reflect the essence of Ramadhan.

The feast of Ramadhan or Aidil Fitri is when Muslims celebrate the success of suppressing their temptations during Ramadhan. Although Aidil Fitri is started with prayers in the morning, what happens after that reflect more of cultural practices rather than religious prescriptions. To a certain extend, the commercial elements of Aidil Fitri distract Muslims from the essence of Ramadhan even when the month is not even completed.

In Malaysia, Aidil Fitri songs (more of a cultural practice) would be played at the shopping centres more as a signal for people to spend their money to celebrate Aidil Fitri. Towards the last 10 days of Ramadhan, people would be patronising shopping complexes which offer all sort of sales. I suppose this is one of the reasons why a half-month bonus was declared by the government for Malaysian civil servants recently.

Given that Ramadhan is a period where Muslims are supposed to suppress their temptations and practice moderation, our actions, at times, may not jive and in line with the meaning and teachings of Ramadhan. It is not too late. We have more than a week to go.
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

To English or Not to English

This is an interesting topic, depending on your perspectives of course. Some want their kids to be trained in this language, some prefer the national language or their mother tongue. And the debate goes on.

To me this is a simple decision about the future of our kids, and the country as well. What drive success in the future and how we plant the ingredients in or own flesh and blood? Unfortunately, parents are not the sole decision maker in this subject. We have the state which decides what language should be it be for the main stream education system.

Must kids know how to use Microsoft Words, Excels etc, etc? Yes, most of them are better and more proficient than their parents. Any major complaint regarding the computing skills of kid? I am not aware or any. Maybe the likes of Microsoft and other IT companies may complain.

Why not consider English as a platform for success just like Words, Excel etc? It is not about re-colonisation not it is not about loyalty to the country. Like it or not, it is a platform to access knowledge on a real time basis. Maybe some of us are not used to leverage on knowledge to be successful, they may rely more on who they "know", perhaps. Here again, why are we not passionate to ensure our flesh and blood to be proficient in the language where knowledge (as wall as garbage) is stored most? 

Are we scared that our kids will be more knowledgeable and will not be scared of the ghost stories that we have been preaching to them to ensure their obedience? Who is really misguided here?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Let the Show Begins

I was hopeful for a better start for Liverpool in their Barclay Premier League season opening match at Anfield. While Luis Suarez was spectacular during the opening stage despite missing a penalty, Liverpool was finally held to a 1-1 draw by Sunderland. Interestingly, 2 teams that won yesterday were Bolton and Wolves, not the so called Big-4 of soccer in the league.

While the support for the Malaysian Harimau Malaya has been very impressive lately, our soccer fans look outside for their weekly dose of excitement. The English premier league is one of the many places where their needs are fulfilled. Another attraction could be the La Liga in Spain where global stars like Messi and Ronaldo are displaying their arts. This is what globalisation is all about, you create value, you will be appreciated. Reliance on sentiments and nostalgia could only carry one so far. Beyond that, only performance counts.

Another observation that I have with our soccer is that in Malaysia the coaches are more popular than the managers. There are a lot of philosophical differences between the two roles. Coaches are more on the technical and mechanical parts of the team whereas a manager look beyond what happens on the pitch. A manager looks at the acquisition and disposal of players and even his tactical team members. A coach only takes what is given and try to get the best within the imposed constraints. It is because we need to split the two positions so that one additional glamourous position is created, notwithstanding how this would affect the build up of the team as a whole. Maybe this is the Malaysia Boleh way of soccer management.

Another observation is that the format of our league keeps on changing where sometimes teams are not even sure which part of the league they would be playing. It this an indication we have a very innovative soccer leadership who has to review the format every year?

While there is some success with some teams in Malaysia, they don't appear to be sustainable except for one or two teams. The involvement of politicians is also more significant. Not sure whether all politicians in Malaysia are born with sports leadership skills?

I am sure many of Malaysians will be more local to their european teams then the local ones, as displayed when Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were here recently. Can't blame them as they want the best. In a globalised world, mediocrity will not lead to anywhere, even when protected by legislation.

Enjoy the show.