Friday, July 27, 2007

Weather Talk

The papers here have been reporting about the recent floods in the unusual parts of the country almost everyday. Floods in Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Oxford (where "that other university" is located) would take up the first few pages in the dailies.

Yesterday two Fellows in my college were "debating" over an article about climate change;

"Today these scientists are saying that global warming is making heavy rain fall more frequently across the world's temperate latitudes. But less than a year ago, they said that the summer this year will be hot and dry and it will be normal occurence in the next 40 to 50 years. They just can't make up their mind as to the effects of global warming!"

"It is not possible to say whether this is a result of climate change or not...but we do know that, in general, warmer climates experience more intense rainfall. Our current wet summer is associated with a jet stream that is further south than normal."

Marks and Spencer's Chief Executive Stuart Rose once said, "Weather is for wimps" after a string of retailers blamed unseasonable weather for their travails.
Recently it was reported "Weather ends the boom times at M&S"
Why? The wet weather caused sluggish sales of their summer clothes.
Rose quipped, "We sold more brollies..."

Other retailers are complaining that their summer stocks for BBQ equipment and food have been dampened by the wet weather.

Not all are losers....

Domino's Pizza reported increase in its half-year profits. "More people are picking up the phone than their BBQ skewers during this wet summer."

Sales in Halfords, the car parts-to-bicycles retailer, rose as motorists were forced to fit new wiper blades during the wet weather.

Opportunities in the face of adversities. Win some, lose some, there are always trade-offs. That's what I've learnt in Sustainable Development.

Think Simply

Yesterday I read in the FT that Walk Disney would be phasing out cigarette smoking in its films.

This morning, a 10-year old wrote in response to the article, "Sir, ...This will make it much more difficult to tell quickly who is the bad guy in the story."

Monday, July 23, 2007

MPH, Popular and their Daft-ly Wallows

This would be my first open criticism about the latest fracas in Malaysia about selling the latest Harry Potter book. Shame on you, Malaysian booksellers!

In one corner of the world there is a place called London. There were pre-orders, long queues, costume dress-ups and a great fanfare to usher the launch of the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book. In another corner, 11000km away, there is a tiff about whether the book should be sold at a premium or not at all. The misunderstanding started when two hypermarkets fired the first salvo in a huge price cut of the book that could not be matched by the local (bigger) booksellers. It was RM40 (or £6) below the published rates of the booksellers. RM40 is a huge savings to Malaysians. While £6 could only buy me a decent meal at the restaurants here, the same amount could buy me 10 Chinese or Malay takeaways at the local foodstalls in KL.

I was peeved after reading about it in the online dailies, not because of the higher premium that Malaysians were charged or could have saved if not for the two hypermarkets but rather at the attitude of the booksellers who were unwilling to face and brace competition as part and parcel of their business. Blame it on globalisation, blame it on level playing fields, blame it on size or whatever we call it, businesses have to reinvent, modernise, cut cost without cutting corners and stay on top of the game lest they will be devoured by the better players who could.

One of the major bookshops that took the latest Harry Potter book off the shelves

The apex of the claim on anti-competitive behaviour came when the booksellers informed that they would rather keep their stocks in store rather than selling them at a RM4 (60p) margin which the two hypermarkets were alleged to make in every book sold. They rationalised that they could sell their stocks after the two hypermarkets run out of their 1000-copies allocated for each of them. What a wimp, especially the President of the Malaysian Bookseller Association who later left this message to the hypermarkets in its childish retort, "Stick to your discounts on milk powder, rice and other food products; stay off bestsellers!"

A writer wrote that Asda was selling the book for RM35 (£5) (and make a loss of £3?!!). Even though I have not come across such a ludicrous offer based on my frequent visit to the store, I must attest that the book was selling at approximately £8 (RM56) on average before the launch and £10 (RM70) at present after the launch. Taking royalties, transportation cost (if any) and booksellers' cut on commission etc into consideration, the present RM70 price tag is the same as anywhere in the UK right now.

So, if you're planning to get the book, I would say that the ones sold in the two hypermarkets are still the cheapest.

I have a bad news to the booksellers though. If they are hoping that the two hypermarkets could get rid of the 2000 copies as soon as possible, then they will be left with a greater disappointment. Ebay and have unlimited copies for sale now. All Malaysians need is an online account for either site to get the book, not an extra RM40.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Course Finale

We just had our department dinner at Emmanuel College and there are a few reasons why it was special:

Phuong, Eskandar and me at Emmanuel College grounds

1. It was the first time I donned a "Baju Melayu" in my life!
2. We had the most creative and amusing song for all the staff in our course as a farewell gift.
3. The level of details for the farewell presents were thought out sustainably.
4. Some of the alumnis came back to join us for the dinner
5. A dinner that doubled as a "recruitment" night where some big companies came to identify potential candidates for their recruitment programme.
6. The dinner was the last official event for everyone....

The video shows the song performance that we presented to our course staff in appreciation of their contributions. **Turn up your speakers**

The lyrics:

In the first month of the MPhil Dr Fenner gave to me
An/(And the) intro to sustainability

In the second month of the MPhil Professor Purseglove gave to me
Two days at Stonehenge

(And the urge to hug a tree)

In the third month of the MPhil Peter Guthrie gave to me
Three days of Marchwood

In the fourth month of the MPhil Dr Caroll gave to me
Four CBA

In the fifth month of the MPhil Nick Ashford gave to me

**Ashford citing, Ashford, Ashford citing, Ashford, Ashford citing....!
And the warning about PVC!**

In the sixth month of the MPhil the centre gave to me
Six Distinguished lectures

In the seventh month of the MPhil Charles Ainger gave to me
Seven hours of Fishbanks

In the eighth month of the MPhil Judy Swan gave to me
Eight weeks of MOTI

In the ninth month of the MPhil Dr Cruickshank gave to me
Nine Cornish Coach Trips

In the tenth month of the MPhil Rosalie gave to me
Ten marked assignments

By the eleventh month of the MPhil Peter Guthrie's flights had made
Eleven tonnes of Carbon

By the end of the MPhil we will all be...
Twelve days of sleeping

Eleven tonnes of carbon
Ten marked assignments
Nine Cornish Coach Trips
Eight weeks of MOTI
Seven hours of Fishbanks
Six Distinguished Lectures
Four stops at Hatfield!
Three days of Marchwood
Two days at Stonehenge
And we've all had a very good year.

Some explanations:
1. Marchwood - A mock public inquiry that we did in one of our modules; The Marchwood Incinerator
2. CBA - Cost-Benefit Analysis
3. PVC - the plastic that you and I know
4. Fishbanks - a game theory about natural resource management. We played this in one of our modules.
5. MOTI - Management Of Technology and Innovation; one of the modules
6. Cornish Coach Trips - Our field trip to Cornwall and Eden Project
7. 11 tonnes of Carbon- Our lecturer went to New Zealand and the total carbon made!
8. Hatfield - The stop to pick up/ drop one of our lecturers whenever there was a study trip.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Presentation Outcome

Thank you for all your well wishes from sms, email and the previous article. The presentation went on well. Finally it's over I can let it get behind me now.

Right. Must catch up with some sleep. I only slept for an hour! I drank the wrong stuff before going to bed and it kept me awake the whole night! Being nervous further exacerbated the insomnia.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Garden of Gethsemane"

I'd be presenting my dissertation in a conference on Tuesday (17th July). Even though I was used to doing presentation for my company previously, having a new topic and going into uncharted territories always give me the jitters.

Presentation in Japan, August 2006

I could still remember August last year in Japan when I did my presentation in Japanese, in front of the public, it was completely scary. I almost died from stage fright! I could still remember we took like 2 weeks to rehearse a presentation of only a few minutes; almost to the point of memorising the script! It did boost our confidence a little but not until we were told that the public was also invited to attend and throw questions at us. It was held in a convention centre, so there's no way we could predict where those questions would come from and what they were. Anyway, heaps of preparation and a modicum of luck, I went through those frightening moments without any hiccups. In fact, all of us attested that we were more confident speaking the language after coming out of the presentation. What else could be scarier?!...(I love challenges actually). So, the Japanese way of doing things has it upside too! Polish to perfection.

This time, it would be something similar. Only thing that I'd be doing it in English, much easier, so there'd be a language advantage there. It would be in the Engineering Department, also open to the public. However, I can't help but notice the stark difference between Japan and here. In Japan, it was "regimented" rehearsals after rehearsals! Perfectionist Japan! Here, there is so much freedom and liberty that everything is on our own. Rehearsals are self-initiated and if we don't give a hood about it, no one will! It's an "I, me and myself" kinda thing. I like it in some way because there's this great sense of responsibility and basically, we take charge of our own destiny! Initiatives to rehearse come from us, no one will need to tell us that.

So, I took the initiative to rehearse my presentation with a few other colleagues who also needed feedback about their performances. I felt it was an extremely inspiring process to make our own initiatives, to realise about complacency, our own shortcomings in the presentation and a will to accept judgement and correct the shortcomings. This process has made me realise that the means to improving ourselves, is not through the multiple rehearsals but a true sense of humility.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Recent happenings no.2

The British Council for the East of England region organised a reception for Chevening scholars at Trinity Hall, one of the 31 colleges in Cambridge. So we didn't have to travel, which was great! Other scholars had to travel all the way from the University of East Anglia and University of Essex.

You probably can't see this properly and sometimes the photos won't enlarge in blogspot when you click on it. There's nothing much I can do. But sometimes it does, so try your luck! In case it doesn't, I am on the left side of the photo; right behind the lady in white headscarf; I hope that helps...

The quartet invited by the British Council to play for the event. I was impressed with the way they played. It's a shame I couldn't sit a chair next to them and immerse in the whole performance. I had to walk around and chat with other scholars too!

Kiki and I chatting with each other most of the time. I had about 7 to 8 chicken drumsticks and a few dozens of mini sausages while we chatted away with other scholars and administrators.

Sir Hilary Synnott from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, presented a speech.

And not forgetting, it was also Kiki's birthday! Happy Birthday Kiki! We had a small gathering at a kopitiam after the Chevening reception. But this kopitiam was obviously a nice place, if you heard of Caffe' Nero...that's spelt with two Fs. I was just joking, this is no kopitiam, it's quite a large chain here and they serve good coffee!

Kiki, her cake, a happy smile and a year older!!

Recent happenings

It's a hive of activities here. Whenever I am not working on my dissertation, I'd either be doing sports, attending talks, applying for jobs (everywhere), attending functions or entertaining friends. The activities for the past two weeks....

Brian organised a BBQ at his place but it rained. So we had our food cooked at his home instead. One of the things Christine (Brian's wife) prepared was strawberry meringue (it's in season now, yay!) with cream. The photos made the strawberries looked so delicious. It really was!

Attended Effendi's graduation ceremony. I just found out students in Cambridge can attend the function without a ticket as long as they donned a gown. Effendi is Aeni's brother and Aeni's elder sister was formerly from Gamuda, where I worked. What a small world...

And then a punting trip to Grantchester. My 2nd attempt to punting.

Going right into the bushes was a normal occurence for amateurs like me. I've only clocked 0.09 punting-kilometers through my first attempt months ago. This is what happens when an amateur punts....

Others suffer as a result of my incompetence...and when the unexpected happens...The pole got stuck in the middle of the river and we had to turn back to get it! You can see our friend was obviously peeved...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

New Toy

Finally, I have gotten myself a new camera- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7. This time with a 12X Optical Zoom (it never stops to get any bigger!) and it's 6MP, double the resolution of my old one, but still not the highest available in the market. I guess the market's at 10.1MP but I'm fine with 6. After all, I'd most likely set to 2MP most of the time. Other things about the camera - runs on SD card, Leica lens, image stabiliser, new joystick control and weighs 310g only! More photos soon....