Monday, 8 September 2014

Praticus and the Darpist

Praticus and the Darpist walked into a bar,
The bartender asks 'what'll u have'
They both said 'we'll have the morning star'

'We don't serve no drinks for fairies'
Insulted Praticus with blade emblazoned
Then drained him white for Bloody Marys

A drink for triumph over indignation
But uncontent Darpist carved off the corpse
Perfect steak to go with his libation

For Praticus and Darpist are sons of Evil
They know not mercy nor kindness nor love
Stay away lest your encounter be fatal

Sunday, 7 September 2014

My Fantasy Sunway BRT Extension

I have qualms about the BRT routes that connects the Kelana Jaya LRT station near Summit USJ to the Setia Jaya KTM Komuter station near the Motorola Bridge while pasing through the public transport deprived Bandar Sunway. The BRT route is so asymmetrical but more importantly it doesn't serve the metropolitan orbital traffic demand from Sunway to Puchong areas. Basically, the traffic along the LDP via the Puchong toll gate is so high, the proposed LRT extension and BRT routes will do nothing to alleviate it. The alternative to interchange at Putra Heights station is really unfeasible, seriously, since the travel time is going to be upwards of 30 minutes.

One solution I can think of is - not really a solution but more to satisfy my need of symmetry - is to extend the BRT from the Sunway Geo station to the IOI mall Ampang line LRT station. This way, Bandar Sunway can get another source of visitors from Puchong and Kinrara while bridging the important North South link across PJ/Subang area which is sorely needed in the view of the new overall rail Transit map. The BRT can't carry that much traffic, but it is better than nothing.

The route (in Red) I mapped out extends along Jalan Lagoon Utara, across the LDP heading towards Taylor's University and onwards towards Klang River. There it skirts along the river bank until it crosses the river to join the power line corridor that leads the BRT south. the power line corridor is great because you don't have to have it elevated untilit crosses the LDP again on its way towards IOI Mall where it connects to the future LRT station there.

View Fantasy Sunway BRT Extension in a larger map

Alternatively, Sunway Corp can align the route along Jln PJS9/1 and skirt along the KESAS and then LDP until it reaches the power line corridor, and then make it's way south to IOI Mall from there. But this way, Taylor's University won't be connected.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Why Choose Engineering as a Career?

I’m an engineer by training but after getting my feet wet, I now realise the naiveté of my childhood perspective of engineering. It is not the gilded profession that it was made out to be when you were a kid. It is regrettably not a profession commensurable with doctors, lawyers, accountants and others you would call professionals, at least not in Malaysia, not now.

Scientist and researchers discover new knowledge while advancing the scientific frontier. Engineers on the other hand, apply the discovered science or technology and maintain it. I was drawn to this idea. The Keepers of the Tech, a rather sci-fi title if I may say so myself. If it weren’t for engineers, all technological advancements from the telephone to the automobile would cease to operate. Modern life would give way to those post-apocalyptic scenes from sci-fi movies. It’s a duty, a designation in the world order. However, I would discover that such lofty philosophies are lost in the real world.

Engineers are often found across many industries all over the world, usually slotted within the technical or R&D departments. The number of engineering disciplines alone seem to be determined by what courses university offer and usually corresponds to what industries demands.

You can build bridges in Civil Engineering, get the buzz in Electrical, reinvent the wheel in Mechanical, hack Wall Street in Computer, and build R2D2 in Robotics and other cool stuff you see on TV or on the web. Those engineering disciplines are the ‘hard-core’ engineering courses. But there are also lesser known degrees like Industrial Engineering and Reliability Engineering that have much less technology or science in them as they were created just to fulfil industry needs.

The branches of Engineering is not unlike a family tree with multiple tiers and hierarchies. I graduated with a triple E degree, i.e. Electrical, Electronics and Computer Engineering. It’s a combination of three disciplines really, but under the general umbrella of Electrical Engineering, there are a host of other sub-disciplines like Telecommunications, Control Systems, Software, Electromagnetism, Power, Microelectronics, Signal Processing etc. Equally variegated subfields could be found in Civil, Mechanical and other engineering disciplines.

There are professional institutions for engineers of every discipline, but unlike other professions such as medicine or law, you don’t have to join them to do your job unless your job specifically need such certification, neither are you subject to any laws of conduct or other dictates from them. However being a member gives you some street cred.

How competent or skilled you are depends on how passionate you are about your engineering or your current role. If you are in R&D, you would probably expect engineers there who are extremely knowledgeable about their field, and always keeping abreast with latest developments and likely to join some engineering institution or other. But if you are a sales engineer, which is basically a glorified salesman selling engineering products, other than knowing your product, you can virtually throw everything you learnt in college away. While an engineering degree isn’t as costly as a medical degree, it’s still no small amount of money nor is it easy to get a passing grade.

What you learn in school is probably not sufficient for work, and most of what you learn in college may not be needed in your job. Sometimes digging into a subject matter can get so deep and specialised, believe me, only a handful of people around the world actually knows what you’re talking about. School, or university is just a place where you whet your appetite for the future, discover where your interests lie, it doesn’t spoon feed you the requirements for your job. If there is just one thing to learn, learn how to learn - fast.

While studying hard core engineering disciplines can leave you frothing at the mouth because it is so challenging, out there in the real world, the diverse range of functions and positions make the engineering profession less uniformly professional than law, accountancy or medicine.

Engineers are not respected in the same esteem as other professions. It is easier to understand what other professionals do, but what does an engineer do? For instance, if I work in a semiconductor company, I’ll have to first explain what a semiconductor is. Then I’ll explain what I do every day that in itself could prove tough too. Now, while many people think that designing semiconductor chips are within my skillset, but what if all I do is manage a bunch of unskilled operators, making sure they don’t touch the ‘red’ button etc. Officially both jobs are engineering jobs but skillsets employed are poles apart. Perception about engineers from the public is likewise as bewildering as they can range from what some peers would consider "My-grandma-can-do-a-better-job" to "If-I-Kiss-His-Feet-Do-You-Think-His-Magic-Will-Rub-Off-On-To-Me?”

Engineering is driven by industry. Industry in the modern world is driven by capitalists. Engineering divisions are merely a means rather than the source of money making. But there are exceptions, though scarce, like in purely research labs or in up-and-coming firms at the brink of the technological frontier, like SpaceX, Google etc. In organisations like those, techies and the innovation they create are the focal point of the company - technology centric, as opposed to being mere resources to be utilised. Alternatively, non-for-profit organisations may offer that direct and fulfilling connection between an engineer's work and the community of which the charity or goal it is intended for.

Most engineering departments are assigned as a corporate profit centre or cost centre. In business lingo, a cost centre is a subunit of a company that is responsible only for its costs. A profit centre is a subunit of a company that is responsible for revenues and costs. Despite being engineering at the core of every Tech Company, no R&D or engineering departments is ever regarded a profit centre. Funny, how the world works, when salesmen are seen to be the driving force of revenue.

In the land of great innovation, the USA, engineers are relatively respected more. Some reach the highest echelons of some tech companies as Chief Technology Officers or fellows. A true technical ladder for those who could not or should not manage people but remain as individual contributors in a technical capacity. But in Malaysia and most of Asia, the technical ladder doesn’t exist and even if implemented is not genuine in intent, rather a ploy to retain workers.

As engineers, we joked, we’ll never get rich if we remain as engineers. Jokes aren’t as funny when they are so woefully true. If engineers do not climb the managerial ladder or start a business, they will be condemned to life-long career of servitude.

A counter argument to that line of thought is that engineering is a safe profession. Safer because, industries rely on engineers, which means there is constant demand for those in the profession. But always be prepared to learn new industry trends or new tech, because an engineer's worth is only as much as how he can adapt to the ever changing modern world.

I’m going off on a tangent to remark that I think the business world has wrongly celebrated the salesmen as the revenue makers, the first point of contact between buyer and seller. If the product is so good it would sell itself. If the product is mediocre then it is the salesmen’s job to come in to seal the deal, trying to hide the inferiority of the merchandise. Talk about a debasement of human virtues, deception and dishonesty are formally the best ways to make a buck. Remember the 2008 financial crisis, brought about by financiers concocting false revenues, borrowing from the future and what-not. Well, the industries (most) engineers stand behind represent the Real Economy rather than the Paper Economy.

In further defence of engineering, I would like to offer you this widely off-track train of thought. In this time in history, polymaths cannot exist anymore. A polymath is a person whose expertise lies over multiple fields. Illustrious polymaths include Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo Galilei. From my engineering perspective, a great polymath plies his trade between multiple scientific, medical or mathematical subjects, you know the hard stuff and creates new theorem, and discoveries etc. and not just one who studies various books. Thomas Young (1773-1829) had an autobiography written about him by an Andrew Robinson who claimed that Young was the ‘Last Man Who Knew Everything’. That may or may not be ordinally true, but know this; Einstein (1879-1955) is not regarded as a polymath because despite his genius he was fundamentally a physicist.

Great polymaths (science, maths, hard stuff) cannot exist today because the realm of science, maths and engineering by extension is so vast. It’s even impossible for one man to master everything in one engineering discipline. To discover something new in one field means you would already have swum across the whole seas of acquired knowledge, or oceans rather, and to do the same in another field would be humanly impossible, despite what some fantastical fictional storylines would have you believe. It is just incredibly time consuming. Acquired knowledge is like the Big Bang Theory itself. Knowledge had exploded, and to circumnavigate even 1/millionth percent of the outer edge of this ever expanding universe would be impossible. I could not help but to pleasantly ponder upon ancient times when if you were a scientist in your walled city, you possibly could procure the entire world’s knowledge single-handedly right there in your dusty little bookshelf.

Unless we evolve into some super brainy creature or genetically modify ourselves, all our acquired knowledge might implode on itself. Especially if there is an apocalyptic incident on the horizon. There simply aren’t enough people to sustain our highly specialised civilization which keeps getting more complex and divergent. So while it lasts, engineers, the proverbial keepers of the tech shall dutifully uphold and advance the mechanisms that drive our present lifestyles and future dreams. How’s that for a supporting argument?

I hope my cliff notes version of my insider perspective will be of some benefit to you. When choosing your career path, don’t choose engineering for the wrong reasons. Know what it is really like out there in the real world. Make an engineer friend. *I'm here*

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A Paltry Pringles

Comfort food. The chink in my armour. Ambrosia. This is how I would describe my favourite snack. Pringles has that ‘Once you pop, U can’t stop’ drug effect. With just the right amount of MSG and artificial flavouring, a can of Pringles makes me want to relish each chip but down a whole can at the same time. Yes, Pringles brings the little crazy out of me. A texture pleasant to the palate, every chip identical to the next, it is the only sealed chips in a can that tickles my fancy. FYI my favourite flavour by far is Sour Cream and Onion and it’s a great test of my tenacity to not to polish the whole can off in under 24 hours. 

Pringles chips cannot be labelled officially as potato chips because it actually only contains around 40% potato, as a 2008 court case in London divulged. Other components include wheat, rice and corn. Personally, it is my must have travelling companion, fodder for the munchies on long airplane trips and airport waits. Pringles sold everywhere tasted the same, as uniform as the chips themselves, until the turn of the millennium, when a sinister Pringle variant came in to take my much beloved snack on the store shelves. They were priced insidiously cheap undoubtedly to mask their true objectives.  

These non-genuine stand-ins were made in Malaysia and exported to various Asian Pacific countries. Although they are stamped with the iconic Pringles moustached man, they are nothing like the Pringles I knew and loved in the 90s. As I explain how the two are different, I’d like you to question why we Asians are put through such second-rate products and what went through the minds of the market research imbeciles when authorizing this miserable variant.  

The original Pringles on the Left and its diminutive version on the right.

In the picture above I have placed side by side the two Pringles. Luckily they still sell the original imported version but at twice the price in fancier supermarkets such as Cold Storage and Jaya Grocer. First off is the size of the can and the chip itself. Smaller chips for Asians? Is this racial stereotyping at play? I can barely squeeze my hands into the can. That would force me to tip over the can to get at the chips at the bottom, toppling the perfectly stacked chips and increasing the incidents of chip chippings. Please pardon my first world problem. 

Secondly, the shape. Pringles was the originator of the saddle horse shaped chip. It is an oval disc curved across two axes. It is shaped that way so they can maximize the space in a can and not get all disarrayed when the can gets shaken. The Malaysian chip only features a single curve on the chip. Why can’t it be a saddle horse as well? I rather my Pringles to in the shape my tongue can ride on, if you know what I mean. 

Third is the taste. Malaysian chips feature more rice content than the original recipe in which corn I believe is more prevalent. While the texture is not much of an issue, the creators got the taste wrong. I’m not one of those naturalist, where everything created in the lab is demonized and an alphabet soup of artificial chemicals are like its summoning potion. However the flavours on the Malaysian made product just don’t match up to the original, sour cream to sour cream and basically all the other flavours too. Imagine driving a roaring Ferrari for so long then downgrading to a sputtering MyVi. The taste is definitely not as titillating or as addictive. A healthier version? I doubt it. 

I hope that Pringles HQ will realise the folly of its wayward Asian regional office and phase out the paltry version of chips. Otherwise future generations may never remember the way it used to be. Allow us the chance to savour the best potato-based chip snack in the world. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise in another sci-fi movie. From the trends I observed, Americans don't fancy sci-fi themed movies that much. It was not that Oblivion was bad, it was a little slow however. That being said, I found Edge of Tomorrow to be dissimilarly fun and energetic. Of course fun here refers to seeing Tom Cruise die over and over again. 

Basically, Edge of Tomorrow is a 'Groundhog Day' themed movie, where the same day keeps repeating for Tom's character, Major William Cage, but in this case the mechanics are fully explained. Major Cage is an officer who has never seen a day in combat, instead he serves as a spokesperson for the military appearing on various television shows to bolster new recruit numbers. After a misunderstanding with a senior officer, Cage was demoted to private, and sent to the first wave of an offensive. The world Major Cage was living in had been attacked by a formidable alien race dubbed the Mimics which look like constantly squirming straggly spaghetti strands of black steel. Now, they controlled central Europe, and where they conquer, no survivors remain.  

The mechanics of the daily resurrection is as such -  Cage has to die everyday unless he wants the aliens' counterattack to succeed. It was explained that on the first day he died, he killed an alpha of the Mimics which have the ability to traverse time, if only in consciousness. Because the Mimic juices infused with Cage's body the moment he died, he shared their ability to turn back time as well every time he dies. 

He met the love interest, the lithe Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) in one time loop. She was poster pin-up veteran known as 'Full Metal Bitch' who apparently won a battle against the Mimics in Verdun. Coincidentally, Vrataski had used the same ability to reset time after death, giving her the ability to prevail in that battle. But neither can reveal their abilities to the authorities, for no one would believe them. So Vrataski takes it upon herself to train Cage to be a real soldier, a guy who eventually accepts the burden of his star-crossed fate and steps up to be the saviour of mankind, naturally. To do this, he needed to infiltrate deep behind enemy lines to destroy a Mimic entity called an Omega which acts like a queen bee of sorts. 

I hate to see a good decent sci-fi movie with good ratings flop in the earnings. I would have given top marks if it hadn't starred Tom Cruise. This time Tom is not as smug as he usually is in his Mission Impossible movies. Overall I give a 9, minus 1 for Tom.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Hercules: Man vs Myth

Why do movies seem to come in pairs? Last year Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down. While both movies had their virtues, this year’s Legend of Hercules was pretty B-grade and not outstanding. However, this under marketed flick helmed by uber celebrity Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson deserves not to be preconceived with the similar derision as the earlier one. If anything, after ‘The Edge of Tomorrow’, ‘Hercules’ would get my vote for movie of the year so far.

If 2014’s Hercules was colonized i.e. the movie title has a colon in it, I think ‘Man vs Myth’ should be it. This version of Hercules parks the Greek gods aside and focuses on the man, or rather what the man could have been. But this is if I’m not mistaken, this is the only Hercules on screen that features the Twelve Labours like killing Hydra or the Nymean Lion etc. in keeping with the Herculean myth.

The premise of the movie postulates that Hercules was flesh and blood, no more infallible to injury than the rest of us. But he is very much stronger than the rest of us, powerful enough to rip the jaw off of any perilous beast. This Hercules grew up in Athens and his Labours were a form of penitence to King Eurystheus after killing his wife and kids in an inexplicable fit of madness. The mythical creatures he fights are merely aberrations made up by his nephew, Iolaus, an accomplished story teller. He travels around in a posse of which Iolaus is a part of, and travels around Greece serving as mercenaries for various parties. The myth of him being a demi-god and his celebrated Labours are the ultimate infomercial of its time for a gang of hired swords.

What an excellent accompaniment to Hercules his ragtag bunch makes. They consist of his no. 1 PR man, Iolaus, a maniac of a mute with a deeply troubled Tydeus, a token female warrior, Atalanta, mostly accurate seer Amphiaraus and long-time friend to Hercules, Autolycus.

I like summer movies that are action filled that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hercules has a few side-splitting numbers as they debunk various Greek myths. It’s a near perfect blockbuster with a passable plot, awesome CG and star quality attractions (larger than a pebble, smaller than a boulder). While the earlier Hercules was all-muscle, this one rips the competition to shreds. Here’s to hoping that Hercules won’t be a flop, fingers crossed. This is a 9.5/10.
Silly as it may seem, this movie is brave enough to follow the actual depiction of Hercules in literature with the Lion Hat.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Flight Path from Europe to Southeast Asia is One Big No-Fly-Zone

When Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, there was talk that airlines should not have flown over conflicted regions where security is on the edge. Hindsight is always 20-20 as they say. The thing is that while flying at over 10km above sea level has always been considered safe even over those restive regions because supposedly only state actors have access to surface to air missiles capable of reaching commercial jet cruise altitude. Thus, states are presumed to be competent and responsible.

So if the problem are the rebels and insurgents with the lands they occupy, then flying over Central Asia is trickier than you would think. One critical region which the main Asia-Europe highway in the sky traverses is the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the area of eternal turmoil. Do they have those long range surface-to-air missiles? Do they know how to use it? Nobody really knew the eastern Ukrainian rebels could do what they did. If we were to apply complete no-fly-zones on all these conflict regions, airplanes have to take the scenic route on their transcontinental journey. Scenic routes are not cheap. 

A few things to note on the map. Climbing over the Himalayas is a no-no for commercial planes because it is too risky with the small aircraft to ground clearance with the mountain and horrendous turbulence. The Middle East and the Central Asia is rife with insurgencies. A straight route from Europe to Asia would take any commercial flight path over a number of these war zones. Diverting planes around these regions is like navigating around a maze and is not the answer. The downing of MH17 is the betrayal of the trust that no individual or group should ever attack a tin can full of innocents 33,000 feet in the air. May God bless their souls.