Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Continuous Evolution

MOST, if not all, languages in the world are evolving continuously, and Bahasa Malaysia (BM) is no exception. Just like the English language, BM sometimes has to borrow words from other languages which are then "Malaysianised", perhaps to suit our national identity. For example in the scientific world, names of chemical elements have been "Malaysianised" and then those words are used in our syllabus. There are other fields, e.g. the IT industry where many, many words have come into existence very rapidly. Apart from formal usage, some words like "dude" have also become commonplace in the younger generation.

When I was still in school, I can remember many, many BM words which were not imported from the English language. For example, we had perbahasan, perbincangan and penyesuaian, to name a few. However, because of the evolution of our national language, I can't help but notice that there is now a general preference to use words imported from the English language. Therefore, instead of perbahasan, we prefer pendebatan (debate); instead of perbincangan, we prefer diskusi (discussion); instead of penyesuaian, we prefer adaptasi (adaptation). In most cases, I suspect that this current trend has a lot to do with the perception of sophistication in the BM if the English-imported words are used instead of our good old-fashioned original Malay ones.

As the New Generation Director dealing with the Interactors, I've had the opportunities to have several casual conversations with secondary school students. In one such conversations, we somehow spoke about science and I brought up the word raksa, which is the Malay word for mercury. When I was still in school a hundred years ago, raksa was a very common word and every student would know its meaning. But the modern-day students don't know raksa. I actually spelt out the word for them, and still it didn't ring a bell. In the end I gave up and told them that raksa is mercury. They replied that as far as they're concerned, mercury, when translated into Malay is merkuri.

I looked up for raksa in my kamus as soon as I could and was relieved to find that it's still there! I suppose that means my knowledge in Malay is still relevant. Perhaps merkuri sounds a bit more sophisticated and modern than raska—I don't know—but someone in the Malaysian education system should decide, once and for all, which is the standard to be adopted. We can't keep moving back and forth from English to Malay to English.

So now that we've decided on merkuri, what is to become of raksa? Will it resurface again in the next generation? Or will it be forgotten for good this time?

If our national language must evolve, then let's evolve progressively—not changing back and forth over and over again.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Salt Counts!


That's what a master treasure hunter, Vincent Woo, said in one of his comments in the Riddle Raiders Blog some time ago. He was referring to the experience in treasure hunting. I can easily support that claim—in fact experience counts in most things in life.

I've been meaning to explain my writing style for a while now. Some people have been asking for the explanation for a long time, but I kept putting it into my "to do" list. Well, perhaps now is a good time to explain myself.

It all started years ago when I was teaching maths and science for a little over 3 years. And further back than that, when I was still in school, I used to feel frustrated when some of the teachers did not really know how to teach in spite of their diplomas in the teaching discipline. And unfortunately a fair number of students had a phobia of maths. Perhaps that is still the case today. When they're presented with algebras and calculus etc, their minds will automatically shut down.

When I started teaching, the first thing I did was to put myself in the shoes of my students. And not only did I put myself in their shoes, I specifically put myself in the shoes of the weakest student. That then was my starting point. In my opinion, when imparting knowledge, the focus should be leaning more towards the weak students, not the brightest.

My strategy was to give plenty of examples—the many ways how the problem could be presented; the tricks and twists of how to arrive at the solutions. It made the learning process more interesting too. I did not think that explaining the theory once, and then shoving 20 questions from the text books down their throats as homework, very interesting. That would just kill the mood, really.

I was teaching in a private school and some of the students were drop-outs from the government schools. They were generally written off as hopeless. Yet I managed to turn the tide and made some of them excel in maths—a subject which they hated so much at first.

Giving many, many examples might be seen as boring by the bright students. I had a feeling that some of them had no patience. But the vast majority of them enjoyed those examples. The more examples I gave them, the more experience they had with the problems, and how to derive the solutions. So once again, salt counts!

I have always used that same formula when I write articles. When I write valuation reports, I'd like to be thorough. We can't expect the clients to know what we already know. Don't use abbreviations if we can help it. And try to explain all the way up to the conclusion.

When I comment about treasure hunt questions, I usually go to all extent to give examples and treat them step by step. I can feel that the elite hunters may become bored reading all the basic stuff. But I console myself that the new hunters will benefit immensely in the end. Examples from past questions are not only good for providing the experience, but also make the read more interesting. In fact, I may add that they can even be entertaining too!

Imagine that a student does not know how rubber gloves are made. We explain to him that in India, because of the cheap human labour, they use people who would dip their hands into latex. They then walk around for a while to let the latex dry up; and when dry those people would then peel off the latex which would by then become rubber gloves. The process then repeats itsself.

Examples such as the above are important. Although the student did not actually experience the process himself, at least he has experienced it indirectly. That experience counts! The next time there is a similar question or problem, that student might be able to solve it based on his experience. For example, he might be able to know the answer when asked how condoms are made.

Of course I just made up the above scenario, so please don't take it seriously. In fact, I don't really know the entire process of glove-making. But I made that story up to illustrate my point—that experience counts... salt counts!

So those who've been asking me several times to explain the way I write, I hope you are happier now. I know not everyone may agree with my teaching approach. I am against the memorisation approach which our education system is adopting now. We need the practical experience. Theory alone is simply not good enough.

A trainee student from one of the local universities was brilliant in her theorical knowledge. I asked her to convert between meters and feet. She did the conversion with ease, and the answers were impeccable. I then asked her to show me with her hands, roughly, the length of 1 meter. She couldn't give me anything close. What could potentially happen is that when she's out there doing site inspection, she will actually find a boundary stone of the subject land, but she will fail to realise that those houses are not located on the land, because she just can't judge the distance from one boundary to another.

So I hope my readers will bear with me. I will still be long-winded in my articles. If they're getting too boring, you can skip the examples. But as far as treasure hunt examples are concerned, be careful not to miss some important points. For one of these days, you might just end up unable to solve one of my questions because you have ignored some of my examples!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Moving Up The Value Chain

You have some breakfast before you leave the house for a seminar which is supposed to start at 8:30am. But 8:30am actually means plus the traditional 30 minutes delay to about 9:00am. After the numerous speeches and the opening ceramony by the YB, the first session begins.

At about 10:30am, there is a tea break. And that means some fried noodles, cakes and sandwiches, popiahs, and several other snacks. Not to forget the hot coffee and tea.

The tea break which is supposed to be for 30 minutes only drags on for another 10 - 15 minutes at least. The remaining morning session continues, and before one is able to begin digesting the so-called "tea" consumed during the mid morning, it's already lunch break.

And lunch break entails glorious, glorious food comprising more fried noodles, plenty of rice, a variety of dishes of the highest calories, all to be followed by cakes fruits and ice-creams to one's content.

You get to enjoy the fellowship of fellow professionals, exchanging ideas on what is really happening to the economy. And everyone seems to know exactly how to solve the current crisis if only...

But you also talk about golf, and other recreational activities. Then you continue talking about how lucky your friend is, now that all his kids are already at the Australian universities. And there's that interesting stories of one's career in the City Hall etc. Of course all these talks eventually inevitably encroaches into the afternoon session by at least 20 minutes.

The afternoon session then starts way behind time, and while the speaker tries to rush through the slides, you notice that everyone is struggling to stay awake, and then before you know it, voila! it's the afternoon tea break!

More fried noodles and the finest snacks of anything but healthy food, which can live up to the standard of a 5-star hotel. And more coffee and tea too! Even further delays going into the final session of the day. And then you notice that by that final session, only a third of the morning crowd is still there. The rest have all found dubious (albeit creative) excuses why they can't be there for that last session.

Such was the scenario of the seminar organised by The Institute of Surveyors Malaysia, ISM, with the theme:


The theme was intended to focus on what surveying professionals should do to "move up the value chain" to remain relevant in the face of the ever-changing market place.

But I can't help wondering if the theme is also apt for the amount of food we consume during the breaks...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Losing Momentum

It's been only about 3 days since my last post. And already some people are getting worried of the "infrequent" postings here. That is the tragedy of active blogging—because once you start to lose your momentum, your loyal readers can immediately sense the change.

Today I received two emails and one text message from my fans, seeking to know what has happened to me. In one of those emails, I was asked if I had fallen ill; whereas in the other email, someone was jokingly complaining that I should start blogging again soon, as otherwise he would become "so bored with nothing else to read".

The text message was from another friend, and I find it more interesting than the emails. In it, the friend wonders if everything is OK with me. He said I sounded "agitated or frustrated lately." He was even planning to email me to cheer me up! I did not realise that I sounded "agitated or frustrated", but although my friend did not explain himself, I suspect it probably had something to do with my recent comments in Mike's blog and A Hunter's Tale. In the former, I was more or less told to stop commenting (smile). And in the latter, I commented against equating SHUT UP = TO CONFINE. I did so without consulting my dictionaries first, although I did say that I wouldn't be surprised if some dictionaries support that equation. Later, it turned out that it was indeed supported by the dictionaries, and I quickly added a comment in the same blog to admit that I was inaccurate. At first, I had said that we can only equate SHUT IN = TO CONFINE, but not SHUT UP = TO CONFINE.

I went on to comment against equating SHUT UP = PEN, because I thought it is more accurate for the PEN to be followed by UP too. I am still unsure about this up to now. It just doesn't sound right to me. I see it in the same light as equating STACK to PILE, and STACK UP to PILE UP, but not STACK UP to PILE (without UP). However, if I am wrong, I am willing to admit defeat. There is really no need to become agitated or frustrated about losing a debate. Life is just too short to become all stressed up about petty things like this. All I can say is, it takes a lot more to make me become agitated or frustrated.

But let me share with my readers what I've been up to over the last few days. Apart from my running at the gym and the jogging track, I've been busy sending text messages and emails to treasure hunters in the hope of attracting as many teams as possible for Alvin's (Kena Tembak) hunt in May.

The other reason which had kept me occupied was the amount of time I'd spent playing online chess. A treasure hunter friend of mine, Master Teck Koon, gave me the link to an online chess site some time ago. But I did not really look into it. Then last week, I suddenly thought that I'd just go check it out for a bit. And I ended up registering (for free), and soon started playing up to 5 games with 5 different players!

Needless to say, I also started playing chess with Teck Koon, and quickly realised that he is a very strong player! Within the first few moves, because I violated a basic opening principle, I was swiftly punished by Teck Koon with strong attack because I failed to castle when I had the opportunity to do so. Instead, I took the big risk by grabbing some pawns! But somehow I was lucky to have found a way out from an apparently hopeless position, forced some trade-offs and now arrived at a rook endgame. Material is equal again, but I like my pawn structure (I have 2 pawn islands, whereas he has 4, one of which is a doubled pawn). Still looks drawish to me though. I'll let you know what happens next as the game progresses.

In the mean time, I have also finished 2 other games, of which I was lucky enough to win. I can't believe how much I have forgotten about chess. The only other game which I find interesting is against another player of about 1300+ only, but he is really good! I opened with the Ruy Lopez (Spanish) as white, an opening which is very, very well analysed. It is interesting that we've made about 9 - 10 moves deep by now, and we're still within book opening of the Morphy's lines. But the trouble is that I'm not sure if I can remember very much more beyond this point, and I can sense that I will soon start to lose out to this guy!

So you see, folks, I've been very busy this lately. However, I have no intention to keep this going for too long. I will probably slow down to Teck Koon's rate of making only a few moves per week, and take months to finish a single game! I shall then be able to come back to my regular posting. So don't worry too much about me, OK? I am still very much alive, though probably not exactly kicking. Still need to deal with Alvin's hunt, and then I will start posting again soon.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Day's Earnings For A Momentary Pleasure

We are after all just human—we can't escape from making mistakes every now and then. And some of us are lucky to learn from these mistakes. Others are not so lucky—they forget all too soon and repeat them over and over again.

A friend told me that life in Singapore is very, very competitive. The cost of living is very high, and many people have no choice but to have two jobs to make ends meet. Buying an average car in Singapore is like buying a decent house in Malaysia.

When I visited Singapore last December, I took the cabs to move around even though they had very efficient train and bus systems. Due to the size of Singapore, and because of the limited areas that I covered, I'd say an average cab ride in Singapore is worth S$10 to S$15. Of course the amount can vary substantially if one were to travel from one end to the other end of the island on every ride.

Anyway, considering the thousands of cabs in the streets of Singapore, I can just imagine the level of competition among cab drivers even after taking into account the number of visitors to Singapore. The cost of an average hotel room, S$40 for a "service", and a subsequent visit to the boutique would probably easily wipe out an entire day's earnings of a Singaporean cab driver. And one can only wonder what kind of story he'd tell his wife—on where his entire day's earnings had gone to.

And a few months down the road, he finds out further repercussion from his mistake—one that's gonna cost S$12,500 to remedy. Oh man! that must be like many, many trips taking passengers all over Singapore. If luck is not on his side, maybe his wife might even go on strike for a couple of months; and that's really bad.

But we learn from our mistakes... and hopefully we won't repeat them again, ever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Best Ever Performance

The Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) Board declared that it recorded its highest ever earnings last year. In fact it achieved RM20bil gross income last year, up 9.36% from RM18.29bil recorded previously. [The Star]

Yet for the year 2007, the EPF declared a 5.8% dividend, whereas for last year (2008) we had a dividend of 4.5%. That works out to be over 20% drop in terms of dividend between 2007-2008. This was in spite of EPF achieving its highest ever earnings in 2008.

I'd probably only get to touch the bulk of my money in the EPF when I retire many years from now, but I really wonder what the dividend will be like when its announced again at around this same time next year.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Current Economic Situation

Forwarded to my emailbox today.

So far I haven't seen anything like this in KK, and God help us all, I hope our economic situation won't become this serious.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tembak Series 1

Last weekend, I received a breaking news via text message from Alvin Wong, a Sabahan master hunter in the Time Out Solutions' Hall of Fame from the team known as Main Tembak. He sought my help to promote their unofficial hunt to be held on 09 May, which I gladly obliged. In return he said he will cancel his intended handicap system against master hunters. Yeah right, if they are setting the hunt, then I am the only master hunter left in the field. Very funny! And that title was forced unto me anyway! But because they're expecting that this Hunt Critic will be all out to kutuk their hunt, they have now changed their team name to Kena Tembak.

The Tembak Series 1, as the title suggests, is the first of their hunt series. Actually, some years ago, they started the Trash Hunt series, but that had been discontinued somehow. Many new teams, including my own, have not experienced their hunt. So Tembak Series 1 is intended to be some sort of debut appearance as Clerk-of-Course by Kena Tembak. It is hoped that with this introduction, they will be able to demonstrate their clerking skills, and henceforth attract many more teams to support the Palliative Charity Hunt on 26 July, which will also be clerked by them.

I am very happy with this development in the local treasure hunting scene as that would mean we will be having at least 3 more hunts this year (the above 2 and my own KK Challenge 5). It is about time that we Sabahans try to do a bit of catching up with our peers in the west.

This afternoon, Alvin sent me the Entry Form, still fresh from the oven, for Tembak Series 1 via email, and I will be sending it out to hunters found within my address book shortly. However, if any of my Sabahan readers would like to try out this hunt please drop me an email, and I shall be pleased to forward the Entry Form to you.

At this stage, I have in my possession only some details of the hunt. Kena Tembak is still working on the rest. I shall keep you all informed as and when I receive further details from them:

Name of Hunt: Tembak Series 1

Date of Hunt: 09 May 2009 (briefing on 02 May)

Entry Fee: RM250 per team (2 - 4 persons) & lunch provided.

Prizes: Champion: RM1,000; Second: RM750; Third: RM500; and 5 consolation prizes

Registration: Opens from now and closing on 30 April 2009, and limited to 35 teams on first-come-first-serve basis.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Letter To Tony

In the past year I've been flying quite frequently to West Malaysia—sometimes for business; a couple of times for running events; but mostly for treasure hunts over the weekends. Most of the trips were by AirAsia flights.

AirAsia is a lot cheaper than Malaysian Airlines. It's a no-frills airline, but I'm never very fussy about those little things, especially when it comes to short flights. On average it takes between 2 hrs 15 mins to 2 hrs 30 minutes from KK to KL. Sometimes—although rarely—the flights may be even shorter. There are so many flights between KK and KL each day that I'm never worried about not getting a seat. At times, I'd even wait till a day or two before the flight before purchasing the tickets, although I don't do that very frequently.

Until very recently, passengers had no option to predetermine their repective seats in the plane. So what used to happen was they'd rush for the seats on first-come-first-serve basis. The only exceptions were those who purchased the so-called express-boarding tickets. They'd be given the privilege to board the plane first and therefore could choose the seats they liked. These days all the passengers can, for a small price, predetermine their seats. I welcome this in AirAsia flights. Therefore, there is now no need to rush when boarding the plane.

AirAsia also sells food during flights. It adopts the policy of "no outside food allowed". I think that's fair enough. Amongst others, AirAsia sells hotmeals too. Check out the following menu which is found within the pages of their inflight magazine.

Glorious, glorious food. The one on the top left is the Nasi Lemak—tender chicken rendang with fragrant coconut milk and pandan rice. To the right, on the other page, is the Chicken Rice—a Chinese Malaysian favourite of fluffy seasoned rice served with roast chicken and accompanied by a special secret chilli, ginger and garlic sauce. Those on the bottom left page are the Vegetarian Nasi Briyani and Asian Fried Rice with Chicken Satay respectively. And finally the one on the bottom right page is the Black Pepper Beef.

I'm sure some of you must have tasted those food in the menu above. But other than those, AirAsia also sells sandwiches, cashew nuts, Oreo biscuits, and soft drinks. Perhaps the most famous "hotmeals" in all AirAsia flights are the instant noodles served in paper cups.

I have raised the hotmeals issue with the flight attendants on a few occasions before this, but obviously there isn't much that they can do about it. In fact, I don't even know if they even bothered to bring my suggestions to someone who could actually decide on the matter.

Since it's very likely that I will continue to fly on AirAsia on a frequent basis, I'm trying my luck here to write an open letter to Dato' Tony. I know it's a long shot that he will ever get to read this, but perhaps someone who knows a friend of his friends, who in turn might eventually notify the good Dato' about this letter somehow, and then he can do something about the hotmeals? So here goes nothing...

Dear Dato' Tony,

I am a frequent flyer of your AirAsia. First of all, may I congratulate you on the many achievements of AirAsia as announced through your inflight magazine. At the rate you are going now, I am sure AirAsia will continue to win many more awards in the years to come.

But Dato', would it be possible to look into the hotmeals in your flights between KK to KL and back? I am sure those are all very delicious food. Since last year, I started counting the number of times I have been in your flights. Of course I've been on AirAsia much earlier than that, but I only started counting last year. And after I reached 10 times, Dato', I thought it's time for me to write this letter to you. Each time I asked for any one of those foods mentioned above, the inevitable answers I got have always been "sold out" or "finish already". And I'd always end up eating cashew nuts or Oreo biscuits. The only hotmeals that never seemed to run out so far were the instant noodles which I hate so much.

Of course it is possible to book hotmeals online. But I usually book my flights weeks ahead (sometimes days ahead), and I couldn't make up my mind that early whether I'd like to eat onboard; and even if I did, I don't normally plan what I'd like to eat for lunch or dinner a few weeks ahead.

So there were times when I'd find myself in your flights, Dato', with an empty stomach and all that's available were instant noodles, sanwiches, cashew nuts and Oreo biscuits. During the most recent AirAsia flights I took to KL about 2 weeks ago, I booked seat 10F on both the going and return trips. I thought that's close enough to the front of the plane. But when the food started selling, I still got the "sold out" response.

I can understand that if you stockpiled a lot of Nasi Lemak, for example, in your flights, and then if you failed to sell them, then you could lose in the end. But Dato', you ran out of these hotmeals practically all the time. Well, at least on those flights which I've been on so far. Surely you can add a bit more Nasi Lemak, Vegetarian Nasi Briyani, Chicken Rice etc? Have some confidence in your glorious hotmeals, Dato'—I'm sure they will all still be sold out if you add a bit more on your flights.

Hope you can help to do something about this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Hotmeals Dreamer

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Land Below The Wind

I've been waiting for a blog entry by a team member of Hunters "R" Us on a particular task during the recent KK City Tourism Treasure Hunt which they won. I had the impression that he had intended to make an entry about this hunt, but perhaps he decided not to do so in the end. So I am blogging about it now.

Of the many tasks we had to perform that day was to collect a stamp from a marshal at the Gaya Street in KK City. However, before we can qualify for that stamp, we had to verbally translate an English sentence into Kadazan.

The sentence read something like this:

I love Sabah, land below the wind.

A very simple and straightforward sentence which would appear very easy to translate. I grew up in a Kadazan neighbourhood and I can speak quite a bit of the language too. But I found myself lost for words for the above translation! So I decided to call up my step-mother to seek her help. My step-mother is a pure Kadazan woman—Kadazan (Penampang dialect) is her first language and she still speaks it on a daily basis with her family members, friends and neighbours. I myself learned the language mainly from her, though I have lost some of it, having been out of practice for some years now.

The funny thing was that she was lost too! Isn't it very strange? A pure Kadazan, who speaks the language fluently on a daily basis, can't translate a sentence into that language! After she considered that sentence for some minutes, she gave something like this:

Guminavo zou tinau id siibo do tongus.

But she seemed uncertain. So I called up some other Kadazan friends for second and third opinions. I got something like this:

Guminavo zou Sabah.


Guminavo zou tana id siibo do tongus.

In the end, I settled for the one by my step-mother for two reasons. Firstly, from the little that I know about the language, it sounded like the most accurate. Secondly, some other Kadazan friends gave something very close to her version.

When that translation was given to the marshal, it was accepted and we were duly given the precious stamp. But I am not fully satisfied; I have since been asking some other Kadazan friends for the most accurate translation, and believe it or not, nobody dared to claim to have given me the perfect translation so far!

I suppose it's OK to translate "wind" to "tongus". However, "wind" in this sentence is intended to mean "bayu" in Malay, which is slightly different from "angin". I am not very happy to equate "bayu" to "tongus", but I may be wrong.

One of these days I am bound to bump into a tourist in the street who may want to ask for the same translation.

And so I'm asking any of you Kadazan readers out there who might be able to help us all with the translation. Once again, the sentence:

I love Sabah, land below the wind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stimulating News

Well, not that we've been informed of the source of the money for the economic stimulus as announced by the Deputy Prime Minister.

At a time when the so-called "Great Recession" is looming over the horizon, I suppose we could use that RM15bil stimulus. But although we are grateful for the RM15bil, we can't help wondering about:

1) Delivery System

In recent times, quite a lot had been promised to Sabah, but we've seen very little of those promises happening up to date. Mega projects worth billions have also been announced, yet hardly any of them had been initiated. If indeed we have those billions of Ringgit allocated for economic stimulus, then deliver them fast—we need the money now.

2) Distribution of Funds

On paper, RM15bil looks like a lot of money. I think many of us would be really happy if we can see RM10bil of those actually flows into the economy. Of the remaining RM5bil (adopting a very conservative estimate), I think it is safe to assume that will be lost—mysteriously—elsewhere. It remains to be seen if the ordinary man in the street will even feel the effects of the stimulus, but we're keeping our fingers crossed.

3) Sustainability

If countries around the world are going bust, we just wonder how much longer our Government can keep pumping money into the economy. How much more money do we have to sustain this kind of economic stimulus?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dirty Harry & His Doctors

These days, I rarely have the opportunities to actually spend the time to have a proper conversation with my dad, the playboy. Well, OK, perhaps it's not so much about the opportunities—maybe it's more like I'd rather avoid to have those conversations. We can rarely agree on anything, so whenever there are things that we can agree on, it would feel like a lotto strike. Of course since he's my dad, I still let him have the last say.

I don't normally give in very easily whenever I feel strongly about anything, and I'm sure most of my readers can see that trait in me. I try to consider the opposing arguments for as long as I can; and I'd expect that the other side would return the favour. But if the opposing side does not bother to consider my arguments, then I will gracefully withdraw from the debate. For I do not see the prospect of the debate arriving at anything meaningful.

I had one such debate with the playboy recently—it's about the lad, Kugan, who died while he was in the legal custody of the police. The story has again shown that our police has a strange way of conducting their business. Malaysia's police force is famous for many similar stories in the past. We have heard of a policeman who raped a teenage girl who was brought in for interrogation. Even the (former) top fellow in the police force has been known to beat up a prisoner. What's more, he did it in a most cowardly fashion—he ordered his men to blindfold the prisoner before he executed some Mike Tyson maneuvers on him.

Put yourselves in the shoes of the police personnel. You've just caught this guy who you're convinced is a bloody car thief. But he just won't admit his crime. You have strong reasons to believe that he is the guy you've been looking for. But you can't do very much if you can't get a confession from him—except of course if you beat the confession out of him. Would you adopt the Dirty Harry approach?

The playboy is of the opinion that the police should be allowed to use force to get the confessions from criminals. If they are not allowed to use force, then many criminals would probably escape the punishments they deserve. A lot of the police's efforts would go to waste.

I don't quite agree with his views. In life, a lot of the times we just can't take things for granted. Sometimes things may not be like what they appear to be. Some people may appear convincingly guilty, when actually they are not. I believe that everyone should be given the benefits of the doubt. Conduct your investigations as much as you like; interrogate exhaustively if you must, but not with physical force.

If we can allow police brutality, one of these days some of us may find ourselves in prison for a crime we did not commit, yet the police is allowed to beat a confession out of us. It always seems OK when it happens to others, but not when it happens to us. Furthermore, I am even willing to risk a hundred hardcore criminals escaping the gallows for the sake of sparing an innocent person the punishment of a crime he did not commit.

Apart from the possibility of convicting the wrong person, police brutality also opens the door to abuse. And unfortunately, our police force is known to be quick to take advantage of things like that. And even if they did conduct an investigation, we are kept guessing if the investigation was conducted appropriately.

In the Kugan's case, for example, police post-mortem found the death of Kugan as "being due to fluids in the lungs"; whereas a second post-mortem "found 42 marks, burns and contusions throughout the body. It declared that Kugan was beaten so badly that his muscle tissues broke down, made their way into the bloodstream and to his kidneys, causing them to fail."

The first post-mortem was conducted at the Serdang Hospital Mortuary; and the second post-mortem was conducted at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre. One has to wonder how the Serdang Hospital's doctor missed those findings during the first post-mortem.

Now all eyes are on The Attorney-General's Chambers. While we are waiting for his decision, the good doctor who conducted the second post-mortem probably needs to get round-the-clock protection, not by the police of course, because otherwise he would be the next person performing the disappearing act (we've had a couple of those in Malaysia, haven't we?).

In the mean time, I think Dirty Harry and his doctors should be prepared for a lot to answer.

Friday, March 6, 2009

BIM Returns

Listen up folks! The Borneo International Marathon 2009 is now open for registration!

It's still a long way to 11 October 2009, but yesterday I went round to their office at B625, 6th floor Wisma Merdeka Phase 2 to sign up for Mia and myself. I'll be doing the full course of 42km for the very first time in my life; whereas Mia will be running her second half-marathon.

It was nice to meet Shan again. It's been quite a while since the last time I saw her. She looked stunning with longer hair (grow it longer, Shan). I've always said that women should keep long hair; they look beautiful and sexy that way, don't you agree? Unfortunately, Mia cut her hair short just before she ran the Singapore Marathon last year. Gave me quite a shock when she came home one day with short hair!

Anyway, folks, it's time to sign up for the Borneo International Marathon 2009 now. Don't miss the early-bird rates. See you at the starting line at the Likas Track & Field Stadium on 11 October 2009!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

First Time Flying

Thought this is an interesting photo forwarded by some friends recently entitled First Time Onboard The Plane.

Those forsaken safety belts are such a nuisance, don't you think? They can be very confusing to some people.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Hunters Challenge—One In Five

In the post entitled "Handicap Treasure Hunters", I mentioned that I found some of the past questions by Hunters "R" Us were not very fair to the solvers. I had expected some of them to surface in The Hunters Challenge. And true enough, there were a few, but perhaps there is not much value to discuss them all at length here, since the major problem with this hunt lies in the other aspects such as the time restrictions, handicap issues, hardly any questions for new hunters, speedy presentation etc. However, for the sake of entertainment, I'd like to share with my audience, especially those who were unable to make it for this hunt, just one of the questions which were not meant to be solved.

Treasure 4:

Collectively the below products hold the key,
To identify which one from the five you need to get me,
Sort out the clue and bring back what is due.

And the above lines are followed by 5 pictures:

First picture:

A wafer chocolate named TIMEOUT, I believe by Cadbury.

Second picture:

A box of cereal named HONEY STARS, by Nestle.

Third picture:

A packet of TWISTIES snacks/crackers.

Fourth picture:

A packet of bathing soap named IMPERIAL LEATHER.

Fifth picture:

A packet of chocolates named MILO NUGGETS, by Nestle.

And this was how the the solution was explained by the CoC:

"Collectively the below products hold the key"

"Collectively" means all those pictures (or rather those products shown in the pictures) taken together (collectively).

"hold the key" means, in cryptic way, contain something (key) which can help to derive the solution. In this case, it may be a letter or letters found within the names of those products.

"To identify which one from the five you need to get me"

Tells the solver that those letter (s) found within the names of those products are needed to identify which one of the five items to submit as treasure.

"Sort out the clue and bring back what is due."

Means all those loose letter (s) which were extracted from the names of the products are to be sorted out, literally, to form a sentence; and that resulting sentence in turn is the instruction for which item is the required one.

You follow so far? Capital! We shall now proceed to the next step.

Now let's deal with the first picture—TIMEOUT. From this name, we need to extract (products hold the key) only 2 letters, i.e. ME.

Second picture—HONEY STARS. From this name, we need to extract only 3 letters, i.e. ONE.

Third picture—TWISTIES. From this name, we need to extract only 3 letters, i.e. IST.

Fourth picture—IMPERIAL LEATHER. From this name, we need to extract only 3 letters, i.e. THE.

Fifth picture—MILO NUGGETS. From this name, we need to extract only 3 letters, i.e. GET.

Fine, we have now extracted the required "key" for the riddle:


But that is still not the end of the story. We now need to sort out these 5 words in the correct order to form a valid sentence, i.e. GET ME THE IST (first) ONE. And so, we simply need to bring in the TIMEOUT chocolate (which is the item shown in the first picture) for the 5 points. voila!

The solution makes perfect sense, you see. And it is extremely hard to find any holes in the explanation. However, when this riddle was conjured up, the setter forgot to look at it from the solver's point of view.

Now let's look at the riddle from the solver's point of view (assuming that he does not know the intended answer).

This first question we must ask ourselves is whether it's reasonable to expect the solver to realise that he needs to extract some letters from the names of the products? Here, the answer should be "yes". I think an average solver would know the significance of "products hold the key".

Next question—is it reasonable to expect the solver to know how many letters to extract from each word (s)? The answer is "no", since there is absolutely nothing in the clue that would suggest anything about the number of letters to extract.

Next question—is it reasonable to expect the solver to know that he needs to sort out the results of those extractions to form a sentence? Again the answer is "no". He might have to sort out those loose letters to form a single word or words, for example, that would give a hint—indirectly—on which item to bring in.

So with this in mind, how would the solver know that he has to extract only ME from TIMEOUT?; how would he know that he has to extract only ONE from HONEY STARS?; how would he know that he has to extract only THE from IMPERIAL LEATHER?; how would he know that he has to extract only IST from TWISTIES? The universal answer for these questions is: by guessing through the process of trial and error.

If the solver had the luxury of time during the hunt, then I might have a different opinion about this riddle. He can then invest those precious minutes to try out the letters one at a time, and then try to form the all-important sentence for the ultimate solution by trial and error. However, under the circumstances of the hunt, that was not really possible.

It follows then that this riddle was not intended to be solved. If anything, it was a mere guessing exercise of choosing one in five. Mathematically speaking, that works out to be about 20% (choosing 1 from 5 possibilities) to strike the correct item. Therefore, it shouldn't be surprising that the percentage of strike for this treasure was also about 20%. Check out the statistics in A Hunter's Tale. It's a bit difficult to see, but one should be able to spot T4 on the graph.

I suppose guessing is OK too, but it takes away the satisfaction of actually solving the riddle. Of course, that is my personal opinion. I'm sure some of you might have guessed correctly and will not lose sleep on how you arrived at the solution.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Hunters Challenge

"... the Hunters Challenge is a joint-effort of 4 great minds in the sports. I somehow have the impression that they will be all out to outdo each other by creating something outrageously impossible. On the other hand, it is also possible that they will be able to check each other’s products to ensure that they’re sound. So in that case the hunters may find quality questions in the Hunters Challenge. I personally think this latter scenario will be the likelier one, and I am therefore keen to try them out."

The above is a paragraph from an entry I made a few days ago in this blog under "Handicap Treasure Hunters". Some of you might have noticed—at least two of you certainly did—that the blue portion was the original text; whereas the red portion was added later. I'd like to say that it is not my habit to lie when I give my opinions on anything, but in this particular case, I made an exception. Although I said that I believed the team members of Hunters "R" Us (HRU) "will be able to check each other's products" to be the likelier scenario, that was a lie. Actually, I was still convinced that they would be all out to outdo each other to create something outrageous.

But first, let me explain why I had lied.

Shortly after "Handicap Treasure Hunters" was posted, I received several emails and text messages from concerned friends. Apparently, that post was very damaging to the hunt, and those friends were convinced that I might even scare away some new teams. Furthermore, I later found out that some elite teams were also considering withdrawing from the hunt because of their dissatisfaction with the time handicap as well as the tie-breaker issues. I was told that they were then still sitting on the fence, and there was concern that after reading my post, they might just be pushed to the wrong side of the fence.

The purpose of "Handicap Treasure Hunters" was solely for discussion and/or debate only. And while I did not know that I had such an influence on the hunting fraternity, I did not wish to be the one to spoil the show for HRU. There were other reasons too—for one thing, I have made the hotel reservation and purchased plane tickets. If the hunt was cancelled somehow, I'd really be disappointed. The other reason was that I felt that HRU deserved a chance to prove themselves, and it was rather unfair to withdraw at the eleventh hour. But above all of those The Hunters Challenge was dedicated to Vincent Woo, a good friend who's also a team member of HRU. I therefore decided to change a bit the tone of my post.

But now that the hunt is over I am free to comment and criticise once again. In fact, I will be brutal when I think the occasion calls for it! Before I proceed any further, however, I'd like to mention here that there is nothing personal in my comments and criticisms. The team members of HRU are all my good friends, and I am sure they know that I have no ill intentions in my comments.

At this juncture, I'd like to draw my readers' attention to an open letter addressed to the so-called Grand Slammers posted in A Hunter's Tale a few days prior to the hunt. In it HRU sought to justify their rules and regulations; and also gave an insight to their goals in organizing The Hunters Challenge. Incidentally, a few days prior to that, someone suggested that we initiate a kind of report card to grade all CoCs' performances. In fact, it was suggested that the report card be introduced during The Hunters Challenge itself. I didn't think that was a very good idea, because I foresaw that the results wouldn't have been very impressive.

Looking at The Hunters Challenge from an overall point of view, I would say that HRU has failed badly in its objectives. And if there was indeed a report card, then I'd say they probably deserved an F; and it's not even a marginal failure.

Let us now have a look at the more specific aspects of the hunt (I invite comments from those who may have the opposing views):

"The hunt is designed from the beginning for completion in 4 hours."

I am not a Grand Slammer yet, and I am sure no one can deny that HRU is a very, very strong team. But had they hunted yesterday, I would have bet my bottom dollar that they could not have finished the hunt within 4 hours too. The team Cryptically Challenged, helmed by none other than Alex Hoh, won the hunt convincingly with 78 points out of the total 120 points. That works out to be 65%—an embarrassing performance by a grandmaster team (Sorry, Alex, I don't mean to offend you). Even such a well-oiled hunting machine had to drop several tail-end questions to survive that 4 hours 30 minutes time control, in a hunt originally designed for 4 hours. Needless to say that most, if not all, of the other teams dropped the tail-end questions too.

Out of about 30 teams hunting, only 4 teams passed the hunt, i.e. 60 points and above. Check out the results in A Hunter's Tale or Mike's blog. The results speak volume. Grandmasters in the likes of Jayaram Menon, Liong Chian Min, Lim Soo Khian, Adrian Wong, Dominic Roche and some others, all failed to at least achieve the 60-point passing score.

"We have tuned the level of difficulties and distributed them so that the three main categories of hunters (newbies, regulars, Masters) will find treasure hunting challenging and yet enjoyable."

Personally, I love the challenge of very, very tough riddles. But to really enjoy those riddles, I want to be given sufficient opportunities to attempt them. I think most of the elite hunters can agree that the quality of the questions in The Hunters Challenge was very high. That's a real shame because easily 20% to 30% of them, especially the last few, went to waste because the hunters just simply had no opportunity to attempt them.

I think HRU has achieved the "hunting challenging" part of their objective, but I doubt that many new hunters found the hunt "enjoyable" at all. A new hunter I spoke to after the hunt said they practically gave up after the Q5. That's how seriously HRU had misjudged the level of difficulty for this hunt.

"We do not want to make it overly easy - ending up with just a quiz on the road hunt. We all know how that usually end up as a race."

Quite the opposite is the truth—this hunt became more like the Chinese New Year hunt which objective inter alia is to poke fun at the regular hunters with miserable scores. This hunt turned out to be tougher than the SunHunt Masters. The elite teams, I'm sure, were made to wonder which particular questions were the easier ones intended for the new hunters which HRU sought to attract into the sport.

"We have NOT created a handicap - which by definition means that the better teams will be disadvantaged just because they are good."

I have discussed this issue to some extent through exchange of emails with some friends before the hunt. It is now time to bring the discussion into the open.

As far as I am concerned, whenever there is a difference in the hunting duration allocated to different teams, then that amounts to time handicap no matter how one looks at it. There are 2 possible scenarios. One possibility is if the questions are very easy. In that case, all the elite hunters (both the Grand Slammers and TOS masters) can finish the hunt way under 4.5 hours and then rush like mad to the finish station for submission. Then the new hunters, knowing that they won't win anyway, can make use of the extra time to at least attempt the questions, if only for learning purposes. The other possibility is if the questions are super tough—which was the case in this hunt—and the Grand Slammers are disadvantaged on account of insufficient time.

Before the hunt, HRU seemed to suggest that the regular hunters could finish the hunt well before the 4.5 hours time control. KK Chai, in a reply to Alex Hoh under the "Handicap Treasure Hunters" post, challenged Alex to prove him wrong (that the hunt could be completed within 4.5 hours). Hence they're not disadvantaged in terms of time. As events had proven beyond reasonable doubt, this was most certainly not the case. However, for the sake of discussion, had the questions been very easy and the hunters were indeed able to finish the hunt in, say, 4 hours, then I fail to see why bother coming up with the different hunting time. I don't believe that the elite hunters will take their sweet time to only reach the finish station at the last minute, just because they had 5.5 hours. If they had finished the hunt in 4 hours, I'm sure they would all rush like mad to the finish station, even if they had 5.5 hours to hunt.

Therefore, in my humble opinion, the time handicap (yes, it was a handicap) was an ill-perceived innovation by HRU. If it had achieved anything at all, it had only attracted unneccesary objections from the elite hunters. Besides, I don't think it's such a good idea to introduce more handicaps into treasure hunts—but especially not this one.

"We have instead "de-stressed" those who have come to enjoy the hunt in true spirit by taking away from them the challenge of "racing to the finish" in time. For 30 questions, that would be about 2 minutes extra per question - not a lot if you look at it that way."

I'm sure there were strong teams which were unaffected by the time constraints. But this is what I can say for my team—we had 5.5 hours hunting time, and we were all very stressed up because of the time factor. Maybe the Grand Slammers did not mind dropping some questions, but I was kinda disappointed for not having the opportunity to attempt them—win or lose aside.

"We have also added half-an-hour more to make it 4.5 hours for GS teams. This was more to cater for unfavourable traffic conditions that may happen in a spot or two."

That 30 minutes more hardly meant anything at all. After the hunt, I mingled around with some of those Grand Slammers, some of whom were active CoCs themselves, to exchange views. And one of the topics of discussion was of course the hunting duration. The consensus was that this particular hunt needed at the very least 6 hours for proper treatment of all the questions. Although I am not a Grand Slammer myself, I am inclined to agree with their view.

It is also worth mentioning here that a couple of those Grand Slammer teams decided—just for the fun of it—to continue hunting for an hour after they had submitted their answers. They did this to find out if there would have been any difference in their performance had they been given 5.5 hours hunting time. In the end they only managed to solve 1 extra question. So this should give you an idea of the questions we had in this hunt.

In all this, I am most concerned about the new hunters, especially those hunting for the very first time. To those new hunters who told me that "this is the first and last time" and "never again", I sincerely hope that you would change your minds. Let me assure you that not all hunts are like The Hunters Challenge. In fact, The Hunters Challenge is one very extraordinary hunt! Please give us another chance to make you fall in love with this beautiful sport.

So now that I have commented on the hunt from the hunter's point of view, please allow me to share with you what I think went wrong; and what might possibly be done to remedy the situation for future hunts, if any.

I think one of the most common problems about setting hunt questions is that of "blindness". I have had some experience approaching hunt questions both from the solver's and setter's points of view; and I can tell you that they're not the same at all. HRU imposed upon themselves a certain kind of "standard" and I believe they were psychologically influenced in their role as a CoC to produce nothing less than extraordinary questions.

Speaking from experience, when one approaches the riddle from the setter's point of view, he is unable to see or appreciate the nature of that riddle from the solver's point of view. Since he is already aware of the intended answer, his focus will be on that answer, and only that answer alone. Therefore, he is "blind" to the fact that there are many other possible answers within that sector which could cloud the mind of the solver. He forgets that the solver has to work from several possible angles, and then try to fit whatever he can find within the sector. The solver probably has to do that on trial and error basis several times before he finds a perfect fit. But of course there's that problem of spotting the answer too. While doing all those, the solver is also under immense time pressure etc. These elements when combined together will cause more time consumed before one is finally able to arrive at the required answer. It's not as simple as just crack the questions on paper and spot it the next second within the sector. As any hunter will tell you, quite a lot of the time, you will require some time to spot the answer even if you can more or less guess what exactly you are looking for.

Looking at the riddle from the setter's point of view, it is easy to assume that the answer is easily solved and then quickly spotted, even if it's in a sector of about 500 metres containing 1,000 signboards. But nothing could be further from the truth.

It's for these reasons that whenever I clerk a hunt, I'd send out my team members (running on 3 and not knowing the answers to my questions, of course) for a "test drive". It is from their score that I can adjust my questions. Incidentally, I consider them of average standard at best, so I've found that the outcome of my hunts quite consistent and usually well-balanced between the regular and new hunters. I have also noticed that the same approach was also adopted in last year's Kiwanis Hunt (this was announced by Grandmaster Cheong Foo Seong during the presentation). Over the last few hunts that I have clerked, the top teams managed to get almost full score, against the bottom end of new hunters around the passing marks of 50%. I consider that as being fair enough in an open hunt. But I'd be really worried if the regular hunters can't even reach the 50% mark!

I am sure that there are many ways to achieve a well-balanced concoction of hunt questions, and I am sure there are many of those in KL. One such hunt that I myself had joined was co-clerked by Liew Kok Seng and Dato' Ramesh Rajaratnam, i.e. the AMC Hunt. Many of the elite hunters were there that day, and there were some new teams too. But no team got perfect score in the end, and there were a number of easy questions too. And if I'm not mistaken, the time control for that hunt was 5 hours. I'm fairly certain that everyone had fun and at the same time found the riddles challenging too.

In the case of The Hunters Challenge, perhaps the team members of HRU got a bit carried away with innovation in the questions; or in the hunt as a whole. Innovations are good and I welcome them. But I think they should come gradually and not like the explosion of an atomic bomb.

For whatever it's worth, I hope if there is another Hunters Challenge on the horizon, the setter will make it more accommodating for the new hunters. As for the die-hard elite hunters, I'm sure they will all be there, rain or shine!