Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The great U.S. bailout

The U.S. financial system is in trouble. Henry Paulson, the Treasury Secretary, is asking for US$700bil to bail out the troubled finance-related companies. The cost is roughly US$2000 per citizen. In a typical family of 5, that is about $10k per family of after-tax money. So why should the public support it? Why not let the fat cats on Wall Street pay for their own mess?

By tomorrow, Congress will be asked to vote again on the bill to release US$700bil. My guess is that the bill will eventually be passed because the entire population stands to lose even more in terms of jobs. The entire U.S. economy is at stake, not just Wall Street.

Assuming the bill is passed, what next? Well, that means the U.S. national debt will rise by about 10%. To pay this off, the government will have to reduce spending (hence, slowing down again of the economy), or print more currency (higher inflation). Both outcomes are undesirable. So I guess the U.S. will eventually take the middle ground of both. The problem will be transposed from Wall Street to Main Street U.S.A. The fat cats will be grinning once again from ear to ear.

The numbers game

The Australian government is proposing to increase maternity and paternity benefits, ostensibly to encourage people to have more children. What it has not considered is how the demography will change. Even without further incentives, one extremist leader has already made a call to "outbreed" the local population. What a sure way to increase one's presence in the country, courtesy of the host government!

How long would it take to "outbreed" the locals? Let's say the birth rate of the local population is 2.5 children per couple. Each of the theoretical 2.5 children have another 2.5 children, and the 2.5 children have 2.5 more. In three generations, the population would be 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 = 15.6.

Now, lets say a certain ethnic group has a birth rate of 6 children. In three generations, the population would be 6 x 6 x 6 = 216. That is more than 10X faster than the rest of the country. In 4 generations, it would be 33X; in 5 it would be 80X....

Let's hope the politicians know what they are doing. Australia's enemies do not need an army to take over the country. The host government is happy to raise one for them.

Chinese New Year gambling experience

I want to share with you my gambling experience as a young boy. The Chinese New Year is also a time when parents allow their children to gamble with money. I remember we used to shun playing with the "kiasu" people. They place small bets and take small risks. As soon as luck goes against them they'll stop playing. If you were the dealer in the game, chances are you'll win very little from these people. As soon as your luck turns sour, suddenly all the little "minnows" wake up and soon put you out of business. We think of them as "parasites", but they are the smart ones who gamble to win and who make use of mathematical probability to their advantage.

In the share market I believe there are thousands and thousands of the "kiasu" type of traders. They place small but safe bets. They cut loss as soon as the market for the day does not go in their favour. That is why the share market is so unpredictable; it is the result of millions of "kiasu" bets. The minnows use probability in their favour; they cut loss quickly and they crystallize their gains quickly. If you are not a "kiasu" player, you will be like the card dealer I mentioned above. You will be eaten alive by the minnows. You take great risks and look for big gains. When you win, all the minnows shy away. When you are on a losing streak, all the minnows hop in for the kill. And they do so ever so surreptitiously.

A word of caution: even the minnows eventually get eaten up too by the market movers. Market movers are big players and they are also the ones who make the rules. They are the CEO's and the policy makers in government. They move one step ahead of the market.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Canon Powershot SX1 IS - an ideal camera

Ever since I started having an interest in digicams several years ago, I have been waiting for camera to come along that has everything in one place. The problem is, as technology advances, I keep revising my wish list. At last, one camera has caught up with my wish list. It is the Canon Powershot SX1 IS, the replacement version of the S5 IS (which itself has been one of Canon's most successful digicams).

The SX1 IS has best-in-class specs for the following:
1. Wide angle zoom at 28mm focal length
2. Max aperture f2.8
2. HD movie with 1920x1080 resolution, 30fps, AVI mode
3. Articulated LCD, 230,000 pixels
4. Dedicated movie button
5. Powered by AA batteries.
6. 9-point autofocus with face detection
7. Optical image stabilization
8. 20x optical zoom
9. Aperture priority, shutter priority
10. 0 cm macro focus range

Caveat: I assume the image quality, shutter lag, and flash refresh will all be good, as can be expected from a matured camera maker like Canon.

So what can be expected from the next "ideal" digicam? Of course, there's always something new.... It would be nice to have a built-in GPS (as in Nikon's new P6000). Or have interchangeable lens with micro four-thirds sensor, which keeps the size down, but image quality up (like the latest Panasonic G1). Or, if you really want SLR-level capability with HD movie, there's Nikon's new D90; or going higher up, there's Canon's new 5D Mark II. For a photographer with movie inclination, there is no better time than this.

Monday, September 8, 2008

M'sian politics: teaching of Maths & Sci in English

The British set up a very successful system of education in Malaysia. After Independence, we used to have mainly the English medium schools; and we also had the Malay, Chinese, and Tamil medium schools for those who chose to go with their mother tongue. Over the years, the rise of nationalism led to the conversion of all the English medium schools to the Malay medium. Concurrently, English in the Chinese and Tamil schools was also de-emphasized. This change successfully removed English as the language of trade, commerce, and governance.However, the importance of the internet and the impact of globalization has forced the government to revive the proficiency of English in the younger population to prepare them for the future.

In 2002, the government made a sweeping change to introduce the teaching of Maths and Science in English, starting from Year One. Yesterday a detailed study reported that this change has been a failure. Quote:
“The mean scores of Malay and Orang Asli pupils were also much lower than those of the Chinese and Indians, said study leader Professor Emeritus Datuk Isahak Haron.
Isahak has called the policy a failure, particularly in terms of its impact on Malay students in national schools (Sekolah Kebangsaan), and is asking for a return to the teaching of Mathematics and Science in Bahasa Malaysia.”

The report leads one to believe that the main disappointment was that rural Malays who form two-thirds of the student population surveyed, have experienced a decline in the study of Maths and Science. Also, they have not improved in their command of English as hoped. This is exacerbated by the fact that their study score is much lower than demonstrated by their Chinese and Indian cohorts.

I pose this question: if the medium of instruction affects the ability of the students to progress, then why is it that the Chinese and Indians continue to do better, be it in the English or the Malay medium? Neither English nor Malay is their mother tongue, yet they can adapt and do well. Surely the policy makers can do better than to keep harping on the language issue. In the long run, they are not doing the rural Malays a favour. If the recommendation of the said report is carried out, Maths and Science will revert back to Malay. This will entrench the younger generation, especially among rural Malays, in knowledge deprivation in the Internet Age where hardly anything is written in Malay.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google launches Chrome browser

Good for Google. Good for the rest of us, as there's one more choice of browser. However, it has suddenly dawned on me that while Chrome, Opera, and Firefox are all free browsers, can we say the same for Internet Explorer?

IE is bundled into the OS that Microsoft is selling for a very high price. If Microsoft is willing to sell each individual application separately, surely it cannot justify the astronomical sticker price. I would be happy to pay, say US$29.99 (somehow retailers like "99") for a stripped down, bare-essential XP. Then I will install all the freeware to run virus protection, disk defragmenter, multimedia player, picture viewer, CD burner, etc. Many of the freeware are as good, if not better, than Microsoft's. People are paying good money for nothing, because they cannot buy just the bare essential OS. Microsoft would like the market to think they get all the extras for free, but are they free? Governments should force Microsoft to breakdown the individual applications and allow consumers to pick and choose what they want to buy.