Monday 26 December 2011

Is Free Really Free?

We all like free, I suppose. Free gifts, free meals, buy one get one free and also free to express our thoughts on social networks etc. What about this saying that "there is no free lunch"? Have we ever tried to understand whether what we thought free are really free?

Accountants and lawyers would normally quote you on hourly rates. Time is their cost, as what they we told by senior accountants and lawyers before them. If that is the case, what happens when their employees freely spend their time on social networks exercising their rights of free expression on platforms which do not charge their users anything?

To make things more complicated, if a company issues free shares to its employees, it has to take a charge in its income statement. There is no such thing as free shares reckon accounting standards. Does it mean in a capitalistic economy there is always a catch somewhere for every benevolent act conducted?

Even if we receive free gifts when we make purchases at shopping centres we have to pay first before we get the gifts or discounts. Most of the time, we do not even want the so called "free gift" but the thought of having more by paying less could be too tempting to resist.

On a more serious note, expressing ourselves freely may not necessarily be a free act. If we defame somebody by comments made publicly or on social networks, we could be sue for defamation. That could be costly even if proven innocent later. At least we have to fork out the legal fee to defend ourselves. What about the friend we loss because of our comments or the perception we create on ourselves due to the remarks we made. Some people may not care about these matters. They are free to think so.

For muslims, faith is very important. Our acts and conducts reflect the faith we have in our hearts. Remarks made on social networks could be a reflection of our real beliefs although we may want to believe otherwise. If conducts and beliefs do not jive, could be confident that our faith have not been tainted. This could be a free act but the consequences could be catastrophic, in the hearafter.

So, is free really free? You are free to explore!

Sunday 25 December 2011

Common Sense

How do you decide what is right or wrong? Some people may just say use your common sense. Sensible. The question is whether is makes sense all the time.

If we have a peek as the meaning of common sense in Wikipedia, it has reference to "sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts" or "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way". Watch the key words - judgments, perceptions, knowledge. If we put all these definitions together, common sense is about making decision based on what we perceive as right based on our knowledge and experience.

Do we all have the same knowledge and experience so that our judgments would be common? It would be very risky to answer this question affirmatively. This could be one of the reasons where we have differences of views and thoughts on every issue faced by the societies we live in. Even a society could be further divided into many sub-groups with differing backgrounds and values.

Another issue regarding making common judgment is how do we make such decision? By show of hands? How many hands do we need to count to decide something even in a small city like Kuala Lumpur? I suppose this is where the representation system like election is adopted. Even in such system we have observed many instances where the so called "representatives" may depart from the sense of the people who elected the person in the first place.

What about if the "common sense" is based of values which are totally against the best interests of the society. If thieves are asked whether stealing is right or wrong, don't blame them if they agree that there is nothing wrong with stealing. If corrupt people are asked whether corruption is bad for the society and those who commit corruption should be punished severely, don't blame them if they say that there is nothing wrong with corruption. What more when these corrupt people live in a society where most people know about their evil behaviours but their hands are still being kissed by ordinary people whenever the go around.

Those who believe in revealed religion may fall back on religious teaching in deciding what is right or wrong. However, for others who have differing belief systems, religion do not make sense to them. This has resulted in the separation of religion and state matters in most developed countries. 

What is common sense? It appears that what is common may not be that sensible all the time.

Friday 23 December 2011

Substance Over Form

Whenever the results of any national exam are announced there would be many news about how many students scored straight A's. Those who had near miss by scoring single B's or C's may feel disappointed. What more when their friends or elder siblings managed to get into the elite group of people who score straight A's.

On the other hand we have been hearing disappointment regarding the competency of our graduates including their inability to think and communicate effectively, skills which are very important to employers. Is there a disconnect between scoring straight A's at the secondary level and the actual work performance?

One of the practice in modern living is to turn abstracts into something which we could comprehend. Grading which are given to students are basically an attempt to demonstrate their relative performance. The grades do not necessarily mean that top scorers are really top in terms of brain capacity and ability.

Assuming that the grading system is changed where all students will be awarded A's (A1 to A9), then all students would be straight A's students. Does it mean that all of them are excellent? No! 

The symbols that we create to reflect the complexity that they represent have certainly clouded our thinking. This result in the race to get our children to score as many A's as possible instead of ensuring they are really 'educated'. Education in my ind is our ability to help our children to develop their faculties especially their minds. Instead of teaching them to be parrots i.e. being able to answer all questions during exams without understanding why the answers are really such; we should nurture their brains so that they are able to wonder, probe, think and reach their own conclusions. Sounds basic but listening to the concerns about graduates who did score many A's before, we have certainly failed miserably in that part.

Sometimes the blame is not just on the students but we as a society should be open enough to accept our own shortcomings. Do we really want the future generation to be smart and able to push the frontiers of knowledge and other things or are we just satisfied that they think in similar ways that we do? Are we brave enough to answer their questions about our own behaviours and conducts or we just prefer for them to praise us for feeding them since they were small (which is our responsibility in the first place as responsible parents)? If we want then to be innovative, don't be angry when they point to us our shortcomings. Some people are ok with this, more people don't.

There are many other things that we do as a society which focus more on the form rather than the substance. Form is easy to be recognised but substance is more complex to identify and comprehend. This article by Ustaz Asri is a very interesting piece about form and substance. He observes that there is a decoupling between religion and god. Sometimes in serving God, people could even act beyond the commands of god and become god themselves.

Another common misunderstanding that I observe is the branding on people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. People like them are branded as university dropouts, giving connotations that they were not smart enough to get through tertiary education. However, if we read the story of their lives, these people were smart enough to differentiate between academic qualification and doing real stuff which eventually changed the world. Again we are caught with our own self-imposed limitation that a university degree is a symbol for 'success'. Too me, a degree is just a certificate that the person could think. Given what I am hearing, that even may not hold that much.

So, going into the new year, we should start to re-calibrate our views on substance and form so that we continue to focus on what really matters rather than symbols which may not be real. 

Monday 19 December 2011

Living With Nature

Having a break from the hectic city life is certainly refreshing, especially during this period of the year. While many of us would have chosen destinations abroad, a family get together outside the city would also serve the purpose. This is where Lembah Temir or Temir Valley comes into the picture.

Located around 90 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur and near the town of Raub in Pahang, this place is far enough to be away from your busy city rituals. While you may be reachable through mobile phones, the connectivity is rather weak (depending on your operator) which could be an excuse for not responding to any call. Surely, the kids enjoyed the cool water of the rivers surrounding the place.

Lemah Temir is a privately own property within a durian orchid. It has natural waterfalls and rapids which are great for swimming or just cooling yourselves under the weight of the falling water. It has its own mini hydro which generates 81kw electricity.

While enjoying ourselves in Lemah Temir, we were served with local fruits - rambutan, pulasan and off course durians. Having D24 and Musang King on a daily basis could be very explosive! Any food after swimming would certainly taste great, especially in that relax environment.

This place provides a great opportunity for those who have not been exposed to village life to observe trees and greenery at their natural habitat. Off course, insect repellent is advisable as you don't want yourselves to be easy targets for mosquitoes.

A night at Lemah Temir is enough to refresh my tired body. Next time, I will spend more time, perhaps with more activities to recharge my mind and body. 


Tuesday 13 December 2011

Daulat Tuanku.

Today is a historic day for Malaysia when Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'azam Shah, the Sultan of Kedah, took oath as the 14th Yang DiPertuan Agong of Malaysia. Historic in the sense that Tuanku Abdul Halim was also the 5th Yang Dipertuan Agong from 1970 to 1975. Additionally, he will reside at the new Istana Negara or the National Palace which in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia observes a constitutional monarchy system where the Yang DiPertuan Agong or King is elected among the Sultans of the nine states in Malaysia. The King is the Supreme Head of State and serves for a period of five years. 

Tuanku Abdul Halim replaces Tuanku Mizan Zainal ABidin, the Sultan of Terengganu, who completed his term on 12 December, 2011. 

Daulat Tuanku!

Sunday 11 December 2011

One Limousine Ride in London

There are many things that you can write about London. Maybe to most Malaysians, Oxford Street would be the most familiar landmark as there is where the shopping spot is located. Rather than discussing about London landmarks, I would like to share the experience talking to a limousine driver in London.

I arrived around 5.30 in the morning at Heathrow and my limousine driver was already waiting when I exited the arrival hall. It was a right timing, just ahead of the normal morning jam that Londoners have to ensure daily.

My pick up was the first trip for my driver who drives a diesel Mercedes Benz. He is from the largest operator of limousine in London. Interestingly, the company invests significantly in technology in ensuring its services are ahead of the rest.

For example, it's IT system would allocate jobs to drivers based on their proximity to passengers taking into consideration how long they have been on the queue. This enables a fair distribution of work among the drivers. While the driver related that he has to work hard and has limited time for holidays, he seems satisfied with the income he earns. The company has also launched an iPhone apps which enable passengers to book a limo using the apps and will be picked up within 15 minutes. Payment is also made through the apps.

The Benz which I took uses eco-friendly diesel and the engine stops whenever the car stops at traffic light. This reduces fuel consumption, hence reduces carbon emission. Owners of this eco-friendly car are given incentives by the government. What struck me was how much the driver understands the need to reduce carbon emission and how this will save the world.

It was an interesting short journey and I learned a fair bit about taxi services in London. If this is the baseline expectation to ensure visitors are excited about their first encounter with front line service providers, I was certainly impressed.

By the way, my hotel was located very close to Oxford Street.