Saturday, May 23, 2015

Unappealing Chess Moves & Malaysian Politics

At one time in my life, I was a competitive chess player. That was many years ago. At the height of the madness, I spent perhaps 2 to 3 hours on average reading chess books and analysing chess positions daily. During the weekends, I could spend even longer hours. I learnt the game as a boy of about 10, but I only started playing seriously and competitively in my twenties.

The thing about chess is that there is almost no ending to the learning process. When you've played enough games, you'd come to a point when almost all openings seem to resemble one another. After learning the basic opening moves, you'd move on to explore specific openings. For example, I spent countless hours learning and analysing the Dragon Sicilian; it was my favourite defence as Black. 

The longest over-the-board game that I had ever played was almost 4 hours, and it was a big struggle against a far-superior player. I can't remember the moves of that game; the only thing I can still remember is that I lost it in the end. Time control was 90 minutes each for the first 40 moves, and upon reaching 40 moves, 30 minutes were added for each player. It was a game to be remembered because I came to a point in the game where I spent almost half an hour to make just one move! 

You see, in the game of chess, sometimes you are bound to reach a critical position, and all the available moves are unappealing; meaning that the continuations are likely to lead to a worse position. Of course that is usually because of weak moves committed earlier in the game. So you start exploring each available option a few moves deep and seeing their respective outcomes in your mind. Seeing the pieces "move" in your mind is a very exhausting process, and in an over-the-board game in a competition, it can be quite nerve-wrecking. But a great part of playing chess is the art of keeping one's cool in the face of a seemingly lost position! After considering several options, and "seeing" what could possibly happen several moves ahead, if you're lucky, sometimes you may find a solution to escape from the mess you are in. But sometimes, there is no clear-cut solution, and the best you can do is to reach a position with slightly promising chances, but unclear advantage. Then of course there are times, when having spent a very long time thinking, you just can't find a way out! That is probably your cue to consider resigning gracefully!

I was having my regular foot reflexology session recently when I overheard an interesting conversation between two fellows near my seat. They were talking about signing up an online petition in favour of a campaign to force the Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, to step down. I heard several thousand people have signed the petition.

I'm not even going to waste my time to find the webpage of the campaign, because that's exactly what it is to me—a waste of time. I don't believe that the fate of a Prime Minister should be decided through an online campaign. There are reasons—and good reasons, too—for having elections in Malaysia. For better of for worse, let the fate of the Prime Minister be decided through the election process. It's not perfect, of course, but it's still better than relying on the number of "Likes" on Facebook.

Although I'm no longer into competitive chess for many years now, some habits from the game remain. I just can't help thinking about all the available candidate moves ahead. As I had explained in the preceding paragraphs above, the chess mind tries to explore the position(s) several moves ahead. And what I see in my mind now is not so appealing! 

Even if Najib actually resigns because of the online campaign against him as the Prime Minister, what's next? Somehow the next in line, Muhyiddin Yassin, becoming the Prime Minister of Malaysia is so unappealing to me. In fact, I'm convinced that that is a lot like "out of the frying pan, into the fire" for Malaysia. Yet, it's almost an implied rule in the ruling coalition that the Deputy Prime Minister should be next in line.

Now looking a few more steps farther ahead (yes, this quite often becomes absolutely necessary in chess), let's assume that the Pakatan comes into power somehow. Who's going to be the Prime Minister then? Anwar Ibrahim? Beyond my imagination! This is a man who was wheelchair-bound and full of braces when he was in prison; but was suddenly dancing on stage shortly after his release. And don't make me start on Hudud law. So you see, although I think Malaysia is in a lot of trouble under Najib, I just can't see anything better for now. I can't see appealing options ahead. 

When in desperation, there is that tendency to remove the Prime Minister for the sake of change. People say to me, "Just make the change, and then hope that the replacement can perform better. And if that replacement is not performing any better, then keep changing until we find one that can perform better!"

Y'know, I really wish that it's that simple. Since Tun Dr M resigned as the Prime Minister, I felt that Malaysia has been going downhill. Most people want change in the hope of improvement; but they always forget of the possibility that even bigger damage that can result from the change. Unfortunately, the damage, once done, will be very expensive to remedy if remediable at all, and it takes years to accomplish. 

Like in the game of chess, I'm reluctant to make impulsive moves when dealing with critical positions. I'd like to think a bit more, not just simply move and then see what happens next. I'm afraid I'm going to think much longer than half an hour this time...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Job vs Career

A job vacancy became available in our company a few months ago, and we went through the normal procedures to hire a new staff. Advertisements were put in the local papers, which attracted several candidates. These were shortlisted and then interviews were duly arranged. 

Of those who made it to the interview stage was a woman in her mid-thirties. Her English wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but after all we were not looking for a walking Oxford Dictionary. Sadly, just a small percentage of the Malaysian population can actually write decent English these days. Anyway, she spoke fairly fluent English, although her written work was not grammatically sound. Yet she stood out from the rest, and it didn’t take us very long to decide in her favour. 

Accordingly, shortly after we’ve wrapped up the interviews with the rest of the candidates, we called her up to convey the good news. A formal letter of appointment was then drafted, offering her a job in our company, and we were looking forward to welcome her in a couple of weeks’ time. 

Unfortunately, a few days later, we received news from her that she was no longer keen to work for us because she had a “better offer” from a rival company. The “better offer” in this case, as you might expect, was in terms of a slightly higher salary. We could have offered even higher if we really thought it justifiable. But not in this case. So, regretfully, we had to let the matter pass. 

A few months had since elapsed, and then recently we heard from her again. Apparently, she’s not very happy with her current job, and was trying her luck with us again. She’s wondering if the job offer of several months ago is still available now. A colleague who was involved in the previous interview seemed keen to accept her. But I’m against it; and since I’m the boss, my decision prevails. This seemed a little odd, and my colleague asked me why. After all, if she was good enough for the job a few months ago, why isn’t she good enough now

Well, it’s difficult to explain, really. You see, I’m looking for someone who wants a career, not just a job. If this person can easily change her mind because of a marginally “better offer” in Ringgit and Sen, she will resign in a heartbeat the next time she gets a marginally “attractive offer” from somebody else. 

But don’t get me wrong; there is nothing wrong in seeking greener pastures. If I suddenly get a substantially better offer tomorrow, I would undoubtedly consider it. It would be ridiculous not to! But only if it’s substantial. If it’s marginal, I wouldn’t even waste my time. I’m unwilling to throw away my career for the sake of a job that offers a marginally higher income.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Richest Fight in History

There have been talks of a possible fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao (Pacman) since about 5 years ago to determine who of the two is the "Greatest Fighter" of this era. I was fascinated although I'm not a big fan of boxing, and was hoping to see the match come to fruition. 

My interest in the then possible match would be mainly out of curiosity, rather than rooting for any boxer. However, I spent a few moments checking out video clips on youtube to see these boxers' styles . From the first few video clips that I saw, I must say that I liked Pacman's style much more—he fights like a street fighter; he is fast, strong, and aggressive. 

On the other hand, I saw Mayweather as a much smarter fighter. Whenever he enters the rink, his game plan is almost the same—he seems to run from one corner to another and be on the defensive, rather than offensive. He is a patient fighter; he lures his opponents in and allows them to attack; he waits patiently for his chance, and then attacks only when there are good opportunities to do so. He rarely throws punches wastefully. But when he does attack, his success rate is high.

Because of his style, I don't like to see Mayweather fight. In fact, sometimes I find him a bit boring. I also find him somewhat arrogant; y'know, the kind of arrogance that you hate to love, and love to hate! But alas, nobody says that you must have a pleasant personality and exciting style to win in boxing. In the end, it all boils down to whoever can land more punches on the opponent; or better still, if you can knock him out cold.

Incidentally, I come from the black-and-white TV era when there was a very famous heavyweight boxer. He was nicknamed "The Greatest". He claimed that he "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee". Curiously, he's also an arrogant chap as can be seen here; and an even bigger coincidence is that his boxing strategy was almost the same as Mayweather. He didn't attack and throw wasteful punches. He lured his opponents in, and would attack only at the right moments. That's why I wasn't a big fan of his either! But, what can I say, he brought down the 220lb George Foreman with an excellent strategy. Check out how he did it here.

Seeing the differing styles of Mayweather and Pacman, it is so easy to get caught in the emotion. Many people have the tendency to support the so-called underdog, especially if that underdog has an aggressive style. But the reality is that, in many battles, the party with a sound strategy almost always comes out on top. That's why I had to reluctantly predict Mayweather would win.

After a few years of failed attempts to set up the match between Mayweather and Pacman, I made a promise not to ever click on any online news articles about these two fighters, until a friend told me recently that the match was happening after all. I had decided long ago that if ever they're gonna end up fighting it out, Mayweather would win; not because he is stronger or faster, but mainly because he is smarter.

A friend texted me yesterday morning, saying that the match would be starting soon, but I was already leaving my house for brunch. I was hungry after running a marathon at 3am in the morning. The excitement just wasn't there, because I felt I knew what the result of the match would be even before the first bell.

Well, I had my brunch. then came home and realised that I had missed almost 5 rounds of the match. Pacman was the aggressor as I had expected; and Mayweather was the defensive freak as he usually is. I remained glued to the TV till the end, and of course Mayweather was eventually declared the winner.

Then the inevitable happened. So many people said that Pacman should have won the match. Even Pacman himself thought that he had won. I don't quite understand how they came to that conclusion. I can only guess that they equated the many punches that Pacman had thrown was all that's needed to decide the winner. I saw it differently—in a gun battle, it's not really important how many shots are traded between the parties. The winner is the one that hits his target(s) more times. Maybe Pacman's supporters had forgotten that little detail. 

I would love to have seen Pacman win the match—I really do—but I can accept that victory went to the smarter fighter. In any case, let's not forget that both these men are big winners as far as money is concerned. They walked away with insane amounts of money!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Kisah Pagar & Burung

Waktu saya masih di bangku sekolah ketika zaman kuda makan tembaga, lebih kurang seratus tahun dahulu, banyaklah ilmu-ilmu yang ditimba, dan kekal dalam ingatan sehingga kini. Namun bukan semuanya boleh diguna-pakai sebab sesetengah perkara atau ilmu itu sudah mengalami proses pemodenan. 

Kalau dulu kita menggunakan perkataan-perkataan seperti perbahasan dan perbincangan, kini ada kecenderungan menggunakan pendebatan dan diskusi. Agaknya perkataan yang dipinjam dari bahasa lain dianggap lebih canggih dan moden.

Sejak akhir-akhir ini, proses menganak-tirikan Bahasa Malaysia semakin menjadi-jadi. Tetapi proses perubahan bukan hanya terhad kepada cara penggunaan perkataan dan ayat. Nampaknya generasi muda masakini sudah mula mencabar pepatah, peribahasa dan perumpamaan orang dulu-dulu juga!

Demikian tajuk rencana yang ditulis dalam blog ini pada bulan Disember 2007. Tidak pula mendapat sebarang komen, sehingga Oktober 2013 apabila ada pembaca yang komen seperti berikut: 

"bukan pagar la. mana ada pagar makan padi. yg btol nye. harapkan pegar,pegar mkn padi. pegar tu burung pegar" 

Saya tak hiraukan komen tersebut sehingga baru-baru ini bila saya terbaca rencana dalam laman web lain, di mana perkataan pagar dicabar, dan dikatakan salah atas alasan bahawa pagar tak boleh makan padi, sedangkan pegar (iaitu sejenis burung) memangpun makan padi. 

Saya ni bukan pakar bahasa, maka tak bolehlah nak kata mana yang betul mana yang salah, pagar atau pegar. Tetapi jika terpaksa menulis karangan, saya akan gunakan perkataan pagar! Sebabnya pada pendapat saya, perkataan pegar, kalau digunakan dalam konteks peribahasa di atas, tidak masuk akal. 

Perlu diingat bahawa peribahasa ini bertujuan menggambarkan situasi di mana kita menaruh kepercayaan kepada seseorang untuk mengawal atau mempertahankan keselamatan seseorang atau hartabenda, namun orang yang diharapkan itu akhirnya yang merosakkan hartabenda yang dikawal itu. 

Kalau difikirkan secara logik, orang yang diharapkan itu sepatutnya bukan dari golongan orang-orang yang ada kecenderungan untuk merosakkan benda yang dikawal. Jika kita tahu pegar memangpun sudah lumrahnya haiwan memakan padi, takkanlah pula kita nak mengharapkannya mengawal padi untuk kita? Takkanlah kita mengharapkan pencuri mengawal hartabenda kita? Masuk di akalkah kalau harapkan (burung) pegar kawal tanaman padi? 

Memang ada kebenarannya bahawa pagar tak boleh makan padi. Tatapi pagar secara umumnya ialah benteng yang dianggap boleh menghalang haiwan-haiwan memasuki kawasan tanaman. Pagar dalam konteks ini hanya sebagai kiasan seseorang yang memangpun lumrahnya menghalang pencerobohan keatas hartabenda yang dikawal. Memangpun logik jika menaruh harapan keatas orang yang berperwatakan sedemikian dalam tugas mengawal. 

Ungkapan "pagar makan padi" bertujuan menggambarkan keadaan yang secara lazimnya tidak dijangka boleh berlaku, tetapi akhirnya berlaku juga! Kalau burung pegar yang diharapkan mengawal padi, memang boleh dijangka ia akan memakan padi yang dikawal itu bila ia lapar! 

Justeru itu, peribahasa "Harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi", pada pendapat saya, memenuhi syarat dari segi keindahan bahasa, dan kiasan yang digunakan bersesuaian dengan maksud yang ingin disampaikan. 

Atas alasan-alasan sedemikian, "orang lama" ni kekal setia menggunakan perkataan pagar. Kalaupun pembaca tak setuju, dan lebih cenderung kepada pegar, suka hati kamulah, tak payahlah kita gaduh-gaduh pasal burung!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Employee Provident Fund—Financial Management

There's been a lot of talks about the Employee Provident Fund (EPF) recently. The debate basically focuses on the proposal to extend the qualifying age for withdrawal from 55 to 60. I read with interest an article in Star Online with the headline: Most contributors not interested in other withdrawal options.

Based on my conversations with friends, many people have that curious suspicion that the Malaysian government is in serious financial trouble, and it's planning to use at least a portion of the money in the EPF, thus resulting in its inability to allow withdrawals at age 55. There is that fear that there is eventually nothing left to withdraw from EPF!

Of course there are other justifications why contributors would want to withdraw their savings at 55. Check out the article above; I shall not go into the merits of every reason quoted therein, but I'm attracted to a suggestion for "flexible withdrawals from ages 45 through 55 as most contributors are well-versed in managing their own finances".

I could not help but smile when I read that suggestion, because, actually, way too many people are NOT so well-versed in managing their own finances. Most of them would have exhausted their savings within a few years of retirement, a fair number of them as quickly as within a year of withdrawing their savings.

I suppose there are several good investment plans out there that can yield higher returns than keeping one's money in the bank. If the principal investment is big enough, one can survive on the annual returns alone with the principal amount intact. Investment strategies such as these are easy to understand, even if the investor did not go to college. 

But truth be told, while the investment theories are easy to understand, they are not always easy to implement. Many years of forced savings can quickly disappear in a matter of months.

Well, I will be turning 50 this July, and accordingly will be eligible to withdraw a portion of my EPF savings. As of now I have no plans to make that withdrawal. This is because I consider my savings in the EPF as strictly for retirement, not for holidays, not for investments, not for buying luxury items. However, if a secure investment opportunity comes along which can produce a reasonably good steady income, then that would be worth considering. Otherwise, my money remains in the EPF until the maximum duration it can remain there. I will take my chances that there is still money in the EPF to withdraw when the time comes.

Meanwhile, recently I was told that the average amount of savings in the EPF per contributor at 55 is between RM100,000 and RM200,000. I'm not sure if that was an accurate information, but if it were true, I think many, many people will be finding it extremely tough to survive their retirement years. Scary!

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Calling Of The Church

It was during a tea break at a seminar in KK—and by the way, seminars have too many tea breaks—a little over a month ago when a friend suddenly asked me an interesting question. She goes to the same church as Mia and JJ, and she wondered why she'd never seen me in church! To be honest, it's been so long ago since the last time I set foot in any church, I can roughly guess that maybe it's been at least 20 years. 

I did, however, force myself to go to church every Sunday for a couple of months (yes, I know this is surprising to some of you), and although it was a very long time ago, I can still remember some of the peculiar things about the church. For example, I can still remember about entering a claustrophobic-tiny booth to confess to the priest of the sinful things that I've committed recently; and then instructed to go back to my seat to say 10 "Hail Mary"s to wash off my sins. As I said, that was a very long time ago, but I'm not sure if it's still done the same way today.

There are other peculiarities about the congregation. There is, I think, what's called the First Reading, and then the Second Reading (of verses from the Bible); sermons by the priest, prayers and singing by the congregation. Then there is the series of standing up and kneeling down in between all those. This is based on my experience in a Catholic church, and I don't rule out that the practice may be different in other churches.

The main reason why I went to church for a few months all those years ago was because I wanted to find out for myself if going to church could help me find God; to get to know Him better, so to speak. Well, let me just say that I failed in that particular mission. 

I did learn something interesting from the congregation though. Humans are a lot like animals in many ways, i.e. the pack instinct and sense of brotherhood. That can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. 

The trouble with me is that I don't easily submit to the pack instinct. We all know that tendency in most people, don't we? When in due course, somebody posts an article in facebook, saying, for example, eating chicken wings which have been injected with disease-fighting drugs can cause cancer, there is that tendency to click the "share" button without even pausing the think of the logic of that article. 

You see, I listened attentively when the priest delivered his sermon, read verses from the Bible when the priest directed me to them. But I did not sing when everybody started singing; I did not stand up and kneel down when the rest did all those things. And immediately I was rewarded with piercing stares from everybody around me. When you are in a "pack", it's almost like you are expected to conform to the norm. Failure to conform can earn you a stare that says something like: 

"Who are you, and what the hell are you doing here?"

I related my experience to a friend recently, and he came up with an interesting suggestion. He said that I should try going to a more modern church, e.g. with livelier music and songs, I'm guessing perhaps even with live bands performing on stage. I haven't tried it yet. Maybe when everybody is too busy paying attention on what's happening on stage, they won't have the time to notice this idiot minding his own business, i.e. doing nothing?

If ever I were to go to church every Sunday, I think I would be doing it because I want to do it; that I make it a personal obligation to spend that hour or so each week, not so much because of the singing, the kneeling down, or live bands on stage.

I'm sometimes amazed by my mother-in-law. No—not because she can never remember to switch off the lights and fans in the house—that deserves a separate post of its own. Rather, she tries very hard to go to church every Sunday even though she is frail of old age, and can barely walk. I'm constantly reminded that "God is everywhere", and it really makes me wonder her risking falling down and injuring herself when she can pray to God from home. It is, I think, because she wants to go to church—not because of any special person or persons in the congregation; not because of the singing; not because of live band performances; just the plain "calling of the church".

I'm afraid no such "calling" for me; not since 20 years ago, and I'm tempted to say that I'm never going to church again. But then of course I'm not forgetting what the sissy boy has to say: "Never Say Never".

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Time Ironman Putrajaya 70.3

One of the most exciting elements of the triathlon is its unpredictability. Things can go wrong in the swim or bike and even a strong athlete may quickly see everything going south when he gets a cramp in the swim; or a puncture and even a crash during the bike leg. Months of training can go down the drain in a heartbeat.

I used to think that I'd never venture into the sport of triathlon. The thought of travelling abroad tagging a huge bike case didn't seem to be very appealing to me. But then I somehow ended up buying a bike and eventually tried the Sprint event in the Miri International Triathlon. Well, I have since joined several other triathlon races, including the Time Ironman Putrajaya 70.3 on 5 April 2015.

One thing worth mentioning about the Putrajaya 70.3 is that participants were flagged off based on a "rolling start", meaning that the time only starts ticking when he steps onto the start mat, just before jumping into the lake. I think that's a very good idea when compared to the mass start in most triathlon races.

Because I'm not a very good swimmer, I've always been a little concerned about the swim leg of the triathlon, especially in the Putrajaya race because it's a lake swim. Well, it wasn't as bad as I thought, but I still had a few gulps of the lake water anyway; and I hate to think of the amount of microbes that went into my system within that 50 minutes workout. There isn't much to tell about the swim except that it's much easier than the open water swim we had just 3 weeks earlier in the 113 Sabah Triathlon. My only issue was that I really need to learn how to sight during my swim.

As I was running into Transisiton 1, I could already feel that this was going to be a tough day for me; I don't know why, I just knew. I slipped into my cycling shoes, put on my "cool wings", shades and helmet. A quick gulp of cola, and then I was off for the torture on the bike. The process felt like just a minute or two, but actually it was more than 5 minutes!

The bike course in Putrajaya was a good mix of undulating terrain, and some of the climbs, though not very steep, were very long ones. These were energy-sapping, but with proper training, it's quite a fair course. I took my time on the bike, as I was feeling rather lethargic from months of continuous training. I've noticed that I'm taking increasingly longer to recover from my workouts this lately; and I seriously need to take a long break from races.

On the whole, I would say that the bike course was a good one. It comprised 2 loops of about 45km each, thus giving a total distance of 90km. There were several aid stations where participants could choose between isotonic drink or water. These were provided in ordinary sports bottles, which was very good, as it saved the chore of filling bottles on the bike. The only minor thing that I can't understand is why couldn't they close these bottles tightly after they've been filled? I'm one of those people who are easily annoyed by leaky bottles, you see.

Well, I endured the torture of the heat and undulating terrain, and as I was getting closer to Transition 2, I was becoming excited. I've been careful to conserve energy for the run leg of the race. And then you know what? know the unpredictability that I talked about in the first paragraph above?, well it's exciting until it happens to you. Then the excitement can quickly change into frustration

Approximately 3 km before the end of the bike leg, I felt air escaping from my rear wheel. In all fairness, this was the first ever puncture in a race. Of course I've had my fair share of punctures during training, but I've always been lucky during races. Well, not this time! It was so frustrating because I was so close to Transition 2—I could almost smell it from that location.

Time for a big decision; to change or not to change? The most sensible thing to do in such situation is of course to change the tube; no question about it. As I said, I've had a fair share of punctures during training, and I'm not fast in this sort of thing. I don't think I can do it under 5 minutes, but I can certainly do it within 10 minutes. 

Yet it seemed like a better idea to just continue pedalling with the flat tyre. Actually, it was a horrible idea! Not only was the flat tyre heavy to pedal, I was also risking damaging my rim. As I pedalled on, it felt a lot like climbing a perpetual hill measuring 3km long. It was truly a no brainer! Within that 3km "hillclimb", I could feel my quads burn. I arrived at Transition 2 exhausted and feeling dumb!

Then I had another problem—my body refused to take in liquid. Whatever I tried to consume, it would sit in my stomach, and it became increasingly bloated until I felt like it was about to burst any moment. I felt nausea but no matter how hard I tried to induce vomitting, nothing would come out. I braved the run leg though. But it was the worse 21km in my entire life; I walked perhaps 70%-80% of the distance.

I stopped at an aid station just a few kilometres into the run leg, and deliberated if I should surrender. But surrendering seemed like a ridiculous option, since I had so much time to finish the race. I could probably leisurely walked the whole distance and still had enough time buffer for the cutoff. Accordingly, I kept walking in so much discomfort.

Soon enough, one by one my friends came passing by. But there was little that I could do. I reckoned that I'd just try my best to survive the entire distance, or however long my legs can still move. In the end, however, I crossed the finish line and noted that I spent a ridiculous 3 hours for the 21km! What a terrible experience! My total time is 7:14. I must make it a point to come again next year to redeem my pride!

I waited for over an hour for Mia to finish in 8:18, and I waited for my friend Teo, but he never showed. Later, I received a text message from him—that he had DNF at about 75km into the bike leg.

I think the Putrajaya 70.3 is a well-organised event, and worth trying if you haven't tried it yet. The blend of the lake, the undulating terrain, and the beautiful run is just perfect. I would not hesitate to recommend this race.

And for all the torture, this was what I got in the end: