Friday, February 5, 2010

Taking a break

This blog site is going on a three week break. Be back after 1st March 2010!

During this time, some of you will be celebrating the Chinese New Year. Some will be playing with their new iPads. I shall be looking forward to acquiring the new Sony Bloggie videocam, scheduled to be launched on the 8th Feb. Thank you for reading my blog. Be back in a month's time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Time for a high tech national ID card?

An identity card is very handy whenever proof of identity is required (e.g. at a bank counter). The problem is that a picture on the card is not good enough to prevent fraud. With biometric technology, it should be fairly easy to replace the traditional ID with a high tech one. A central government could provide the resources to house a database of thumb prints and other unique identifying features such the iris. Whenever an identity check is required, a thumb print (for example) can be immediately dispatched over the internet and validated almost immediately.

This is how the idea will work. Upon recording a person's biometric data, he will be issued an ID by the government. The card will have the usual name, picture and other basic information. In addition it will be able to store a list of accounts that the person has signed up with, thereby doing away with a multitude of cards (no more ugly fat wallets!) The information on the card is only for convenience and will be useless to anyone else. This is because whenever it is used, the person's thumb print will be checked via the internet. Once checked, the name of the person will be sent to the interested party. For example, if I am making a payment by Visa at a shop, the shop owner will have a scanner to read my thumb print, which will be sent out for verification. Upon verifying, the identity of the person will be sent to Visa. Visa will confirm that I have an account that can be operated by me, plus all the other business terms and conditions. The transaction will then be allowed to proceed.

Think about it: one card will be all we need. I am sure 99% of the adult population will welcome the day when one no longer needs to carry a huge, bulging wallet. This will be a simple ID card that nobody can benefit from duplicating or stealing. The card simply provides a basic level of identity, to be used where low level security is tolerated. For critical needs, a biometric check will be carried out. For extremely critical cases, this check can be extended to cover other areas like the iris of the eye, or finger prints of several fingers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Would you like a rotten apple?

A week ago I bought some Fuji apples from a farm in Handorf, near Adelaide. I was surprised when my daughter told me this morning that half the apples are now rotten. That's good, I thought. Here's my story.

My father was a fruit seller in my childhood days. Imported fruits like apples, pears and oranges used to go rotten a few days after they were delivered from the supplier's cold room. A few years ago I began to notice that I seldom see rotten fruits at the fruit shops anymore. One day I kept some leftover Fuji apples at room temperature for months and I finally threw them away - wrinkled but not rotten. I had the same experience with green apples. I am convinced that some preservatives are used to prevent apple from becoming rotten. When I saw the rotten apples this morning, I was happy to know that it is still possible to buy "rotten-able" apples. They were delicious too.

An armour of protection

In my last blog (see "A country run by big businesses") I mentioned the futility of trying to get redress from an irresponsible organization. I related the electricity box incident to a friend today and he echoed what I have always felt. Since he verbalized it so succinctly, I shall give credit to him as I try to reproduce what he said.

First of all, we must recognize that in life there is a small number of things for which we cannot do anything about. We just have to accept it, even though it goes against our principle or our sense of justice. The best we can do is to built up an "armour of protection", as my friend put it. There are three ways to do it. One: Learn to grin and bear it. Two: Be rich and powerful. Then little things like that won't bother you anymore. Three: Rise above the other guy; then you can kick his butt.

This is wisdom gained from many years of life's experience. I have gone through my share of it. Choosing to walk away instead of seeking justice does not mean you are a coward or you agree to be trampled over. Life is just like that. As my friend said, every now and then we will come across something that we can do nothing about. You just have to put on your armour of protection.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A country run by big businesses

Can you imagine if this country were run by big conglomerates who are powerful enough to pull the strings of government? In fact we are closer to that than we think. Many government policies are influenced by big businesses to make sure they will continue to rake in profits no-matter-what. Somewhere along the line, governments all over the world tend more to the needs of big businesses than the needs of the population they are supposed to serve and to protect. This is macro economics in action. "For the greater good", so they say.

This is my experience of what it is really like when a private enterprise has total control over the production of essential goods and services. My electricity box has been damaged by the meter man who comes around every other month. No knowing how to close it properly, he forced the door shut and thereby damaging the hinge and the door. When I made a complain, the company (AGL Electricity) told me they would get someone to look into it. That was two months ago and it was not done, despite a reminder from me. Today, they decided it was not their responsibility and basically told me to get it fixed myself. AGL does not have a counter service and all communications with the company are through the phone.

In Australia, many companies do not operate a counter service anymore. Since I came 7 years ago, AGL, Australian Unity, and Optus landline have removed their counter services. You need to talk to them through the phone to arrange for service. Others include many internet service providers and insurance companies. As more and more companies remove their physical presence, they become non-accountable to the public. Perhaps it is time for the government to set up a counter service for public complaints, funded by the companies that do business exclusively over the phone.