Thursday, October 19, 2017

More Amazon credit from past Kindle purchases

I can't remember as I had not tracked it previously. This is probably the third or fourth time I am getting a credit from Amazon for my previous Kindle books purchase. Now don't let this end. When is the next "gift" coming :-)

Desmond Kuek as the least worst CEO for SMRT

I caught the three public statements by the CEO, chairman and minister on Monday. To me the chairman and KBW were memorable for blaming the maintenance team for the system break down on October 7 due to flooding of the tunnels. On the other hand Desmond Kuek didn't blame them but identified the culture of the company as a problem. He had five years i.e., one election cycle long and he couldn't create the necessary culture to produce a better performing work force at SMRT. It was easy for him to align himself with his chairman and minister but he did not. I thought he took responsibility without people noticing because we have stopped hearing.

Without recovering the lost knowledge and more, it would not be possible to make the train system work like new again. The chairman was foolish to remove the guy in charge i.e., the VP for maintenance and in one stroke lose all the institutional knowledge he possess. I think the CEO would be smarter and keep him, and he begun with not pinning the blame specifically on maintenance team.

At the end of the day, we want to solve problems and not just apportion blame. Do not confuse vengeance with solution. If I run the system and fortunately not, I would be afraid of losing the people who know the system the best because they cannot be replaced. This is not about making trains but running a train system. Over the years, I have learnt that many systems use the same trains (not completely true) but each system is unique. We cannot just get the Hong Kong MTR team to come run ours and in a short time the problems disappear. If I may borrow a metaphor, you have to love your train system for it to love you back.

What the ST reported on Tuesday told me the problem is deeper i.e., our early system was not well engineered to begin with but was new and it worked for a while.

The flood protection system was poorly conceived with a glaring weak point making it vulnerable to failure. I wonder how many of the MRT subsystems have similar weakness i.e., a "one pin to hold up everything" design. You cannot take the same sloppy attitude we have towards safety into engineering design as well, i.e, "won't be so unlucky" attitude. Given enough time you will hit bad luck. I am sure the moral equivalent of flooding the tunnels will happen sometime. Good luck to the new VP of maintenance.

I think it is very challenging to create teams of people who do not just do their work competently but have passion of the system.

So I ask myself, why would Desmond Kuek wants this job at all? Perhaps he didn't know what he was getting himself into but I think if he were to quit nobody would want the job. What for? There is no way to get back a top performing train system except slowly, painfully and over many years. Firing people quickly for mistakes would only serve to prolong solving its problems. In this sense all three of them are not up to the job but Desmond Kuek is better than his chairman and minister.

Six years ago, the government should have had more political courage and come clean about how damaged the train system was and truthfully told us how long it would take to fix this. It would probably be closer to a decade. If you ask me who I would blame, I think this falls on  the shoulders of the PM and his Cabinet. He let in so many people into island and the train infrastructure could not cope. Then all along he stood aside and let the transport minister and those below get the brickbats. No wonder Lui Tuck Yew chose to leave. Overnight he became popular with us and we sent him off with grateful thanks for his dedication to the task despite his lack of success. In other words, the people knew but may not be able or want to articulate it.

All these ministers have been protecting a PM who does not deserve it. He should have shown more courage.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Napa Valley Fire: Getting personal

When I saw this in the NYT, I recalled we were there in the first trip we brought the kids to the USA in 2006

The elder girl took this photo with her first camera.

Prof Thaler warning to the PAP

Read the same article from Bloomberg View since after a week, I would not be able to get this again via ST. Wondering when I am going to break this habit of reading this paper but I noticed I am reading them less. Lousy value at $30 a month when my NYT and WSJ are each less than half of that. ST also reprint so much from NYT, WP, Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC...

That is not just an opinion from Richard Thaler, whose work I am somewhat familiar for many years now but it has the strength of being proven correct over and over again for which he had won this year Nobel for Economic Science. My point? The PAP better heed this: people here also care very much about fairness. There will be hell to pay at the next GE. Think 38 Oxley Rd; Reserved presidential elections; the MRT system and more to come until we vote again.

For the first time we showed up at Hong Lim Gardens to protest the way the president was "elected" this time. We did that because we might have no choice but to vote the damn PAP at the next elections. Unlike the rest of the family, I wasn't disappointed at the turnout. They were hoping that as many would show up like we protested against the population white paper but my attitude was that of a price taker. People made up their own minds and let's see what we have got. From what I saw that late Saturday afternoon, I fear voters' anger would be reserved for the next GE.

"People care about fairness, and they will punish those who have acted unfairly, even at their own expense."

Bluntly put, we will cut out nose to spite our face. Didn't we see that in the last US presidential elections? Mike Moore was quite vocal explaining it.

The PAP must learn there is no free lunch for them when we do not ourselves. They can either take small knocks or one huge knock out because they had gamed the system and avoided the small hits. This is self serving foolishness.

Remember people can't help being themselves and that is the whole point of what Prof Thaler is trying to tell us.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SMRT: Embarrassing Failure

Another embarrassing failure of the MRT system. The potential for such failures lurk in many places and it is really hard (impossible for the SMRT in their view) to locate them before they cause problems. Privately they must be wishing they could start all over again with a new system, learnt their lesson and take good care of it.

Foreign observers are perplexed why Koreans living in Seoul are not panicking over the possibility of war. It is business as usual there. Well, how long can you remain anxious and suffer from chronic panic attacks before you die from mental illness than get ripped apart by bombs?

It is the same with the MRT here. The politicians are just waiting for us to get used to the lower standard of train service. This is just human behavior.

Singapore will not fail suddenly in a catastrophic way. We will fail slowly and one of those initial places is the attitude of our leaders toward the MRT system.

Lui Tuck Yew was an honest bloke who tried his best. His successor Khaw Boon Wan chose to play politics with us betting that we will get used to it like those in Seoul learn to adapt to the threat of war. Unfortunately for him and his cabinet colleagues but fortunately for us we are not so daft not to be able to tell. Meanwhile the many who have figured this out have also started calling out the clueless as stupid.

We will also save our breath for another time to deal with these politicians or we will simply expire. They must be wishing there were no elections ever and they are trying to get to that as functionally as possible. Their trial balloon is the monkey they are doing with the elected presidency. All these are justified on the long term good of Singapore (not Singaporeans) but I know over and over again that when a fund manager bought a wrong stock, he will say it is for the long term.

Note to self: Actually the water pumps worked. It was the switch which is triggered by a flotation device to turn on the pump which failed. It is a very simple and reliable technology. Many components in the train system could be waiting to fail but who knows when?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi: limits of leadership

Painful read. A leader is one who leads her people to a place which they would never on their own go. On that Aung San Suu Kyi is unable to achieve.

She had the benefit of a cosmopolitan education and knows where the arc of history could or should at least try to bend towards. On that Myanmar is turning its back against a world which we know the future lies with further opening, accepting and learning coexist for mutual benefit.

I once heard her making a speech about her ambition to overtake Singapore in a hurry. I told myself, nice try. Every aspiring leader imagine herself to be a LKY. Good luck. I think she is out of luck. In that vein, Duterte is also running out of luck as well. Every developing country leader wants to emulate LKY. Only we know it is not possible even from any among us.

Myanmar is a burden too heavy for her shoulders.

Update: October 10 4:30pm

From the NYT: Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’

That is the beginning of the horrific story, and there are countless such stories. Aung San Suu Kyi head or tail, you would have lost but it would have been far better to sink with the side of righteousness and courage than complicity and cowardice.

Lesson: Should not have made a deal with the military. In the current arrangement of governance, it was always head or tail the military win.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Fighting Fake News is an Arms Race

I am doubtful this will solve the problem of fake news. The priority of Google, Facebook and Twitter is making money than eradicating fake news. I think we are not looking at a one-off problem which can be eliminated. This is more like an arms race which we will fight into the indefinite future. 

I ask myself, "Who would bother read the lengthy articles after they click on the button"? Most people are lazy and simply want an Yes or No answer. They like to be able to trust e.g., Facebook to have checked and judged the news item for them.

Turn fighting fake news into a business on its own merit. Only then would it be an equal fight when fake news is raking in money for it purveyors.