What can’t be solved with data, can be solved with more data

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… mark my words.


Nón lá

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Nón lá là một phát minh có tính dân tộc cao:

– Thẩm mỹ cao: Áo dài với nón lá bài thơ…

– Che mưa

– Che nắng

– Quạt mát

– Đựng đồ


Nhưng thời nay nón lá không thông dụng nữa, và bị thay thế bởi dù và bao nylông, một phần là vì nó cồng kềnh bất tiện.

Ta có thể thiết kế một chiếc nón lá gấp (như quạt nan), khung bằng nan sắt cứng, phủ bằng vải dù. Khi không dùng ta có thể gấp lại cất vào túi xách/đeo bên tay như dù.

Restaurant pricing

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How do you like being given a pricing range rather than a pricing point? For example:

Price: 20-30$, depending on your satisfaction. At 20$ we are at a loss.

When the receipt is generated, we also take note of some common feature: age, sex, race. After a while, we have a fairly good idea of who will like what. For example, we’ll know that Chinese males tends to like this, while European females hates it…

God bless Singapore, a.k.a Singaporeans bless Singapore

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tl;dr: Talking about the problems that Singapore faces: housing bubble, too many foreigners, stressful environment,… a friend of mine said they had no choice. Here I point out the common cause of all these problems: Singapore’s lack of self-sustainability. To improve Singapore’s self-sustainability, it is up to the creative Singaporeans to utilize all the newly available technologies.

Singapore used to be a crowded port city, situated on the trading route between China and the outside world. When China closed down exportation, the trading route ceased to exist, and Singapore became a fishing village, before being awaken centuries later, under the influence of Western empires and their trading activities.
It is therefore reasonable that the government and Singaporeans in general are worried about their long-term existence. Added to this problem is the huge number of foreigners working, living, and make a home out of Singapore. In the short term, they take up space and jobs. In the long term, they remind Singaporeans how fragile their society is, like the saying “easy come, easy go”.
The problem about long-term existence, national identity, and foreign influx all have the same solution: make Singapore more self-sustainable.
The pillars of Singapore economies all depend on multinational corporates: oil, finance, pharmacy… Manufacturing is leaving Singapore for cheaper labours. Singapore as a people would therefore have to deal with those big players, while having few cards on hand: little land, little resource.

No, it cannot. Singapore itself is already a miracle. That is, Lee Kwan Yew’s strategy for Singapore has worked much better than expected, and few would have been able to do better. In 1965, Singapore consists of a few traders and factory owners, with plenty of lowly skilled workers. With this demography, the solution taken was optimal: mass education, investing in infrastructure, foreign investment and exportation.
Fast forward to 2012, we have a much different demography. Young Singaporeans are well educated. Many take up scholarships to study abroad. What can they do now that couldn’t have been done before?
1. Increase the automation to decrease the dependence on foreign low-skill labours: construction (imagine a HDB being built in 10 days), manufacturing (imagine 3D printing), transportation (imagine Google car)…
2. Export ideas (imagine Android & iPhone apps, arts & designs…, thanks to the Internet)
3. Better technologies for water desalination, urban farming, renewable energy, smart grid… that individuals can participate, reducing the need for big government & MNCs.
4. Web technologies for peer-to-peer businesses such as craiglists, Airbnb, bitcoin (p2p banking)… to enable more entrepreneurship.
5. A social net, so that those unfortunate can have a rest and look for better ways they can contribute to the society.

Of course I’m joking. This is 2012, not 2120. While many of these technologies are available, there are many obstacles bringing them to Singapore. My suggestion? No suggestion. It is up to us individuals to bring the best out of ourselves, and make creative solutions out of what’s available. Don’t count on the government. I said, DON’T COUNT ON THE GOVERNMENT.


Where you travel

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You are a tourist. Of course, you go to tourist attractions. Put it another way, you go where people often go, and experience what magazines and books have told you about.

When I was in Singapore, I rarely went to see the sites for tourists. The reason is that it is often expensive there, so I often wait for my relatives to visit Singapore so that I can join them to visit these sites. Such examples are the zoo, the bird park, the casino, and so on…

When I was in US, I came to New York once. My friend insisted me to visit the Liberty Statue, the Empire State Building, and so on… I gave them a halfhearted consideration.

Instead, what I miss about Singapore is the hawker centers where the white collars join aunties and uncles in the common quest for food. I miss the HDB flats where white collars rush and elders wander around. Also, the mahjong sounds echo-ing from apartments.

What I miss about US is the International House I stayed in where I experienced the American hospitality towards the American dream of immigrants. I also missed the few food trucks where I saw working people and their family went for lunch. There I saw the difference between the working class in contrast to the well dressed people seen on the streets of restaurants, and in contrast to the well dressed students in Brown University.

I think those are the experiences that make travelling into the cities worthwhile. I rarely see backpackers in hawker centers or in food trucks, though.

The Great German Energy Experiment

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(thoughts provoked from here)
Ask economists about the shutting down of eight nuclear plants, and many would tell you that the German is heading for trouble. Indeed, “wholesale electricity prices have jumped approximately 10 percent since the eight nuclear plants were shut”, and ironically, “the decision to close the nuclear plants has increased reliance on coal-fired power plants”. While renewable energy has been at the focus of research ers for decades, the consensus is that it is not yet a competitive alternative to fossil and nuclear energy. Whether it will, and when it will become an alternative, is unclear to many. In the time of economic turbulance, the German, an industrial country which depends heavily on a reliable source of energy, forced itself to go for renewable energy by all means. The story would be less surprising if it happens in Soviet or China, where the political will can dictate any economic action. So in this case, we can reasonably ask, ‘Why?’.

Economic-wise, German is doing well compared to its neighbors. It is easier to borrow capital, and attract talents. In short, it is a good time to make long term investment. But why on renewable energy?

The extraction, transportation, and use of fossil fuel pollutes the Earth that is home to us. Oil is expected to last about 43 more years, natural gas 61 years, and coal 148 years. Notice, however, the cost of extraction will increase while the quality of the sources would decreases in time. The dependence on fossil fuel leads to huge coorporation that benefits from the economic activities linked to it, and huge military coorporation that is needed to protect those economic interests. In short, fossil fuel polutes the Earth, creates bad coorporations, bad politics, bad wars, and would finally be depleted.

So it makes sense that one makes long term investment on renewable energy. However, the upfront cost is so high as described above that economists and politicians would often deny the funding of research that engineers and researchers asked for. Even if a viable alternative source is found, it takes time for the society to adjust its processes to quit its addiction to fossil fuel. Kudos to the German politicians that took advantage of the public sentiment after Fukushima nuclear accident to bring about this radical plan.

Here I want to argue that the plan is not as risky as it sounds. The reason nobody do this before the German is simply because of politics: the bad coorporations and bad politicians resist any change that affect their economic interests. The grand plan of the German should then not be seen as a big bet, but a major triumph of good politics. The rest will go down as a major leap forward by the German economy and society.

1. Eliminating fossil fuel requires energy saving
Knowing that it would take a while for renewable sources to become competitive, it is clear that saving energy is equally important. This is not a straightforward task, but clearly doable. The technology and know-how to do this is also marketable to other countries, whether they still use fossil fuel or not. In the US, IBM is working in this direction with certain deals with the government.

2. The technologies required to save energy will serve to develop more technologies
IT will play a central role in balancing energy generation and consumption, as a huge amount of data is generated from many components of the grid. Once the data is there, it will be the source of further innovation. Individual users can contribute to that innovation process, in contrast to the current centralized energy management process.

3. Renewable energy promotes democracy
Under the current system of energy management, the people don’t have their choices. Electricity companies have a template contract that everyone has to agreed with. Those large coorporations, oil companies and electricity companies, are then major players with competing economic interest against the people. The large amount of capital required by their operations would also allow them to affect decisions made by governments, to the point of conflicting people’s will.

Generally speaking, there are technologies that favor democracy, and technologies that do not. Fossil energy, nuclear energy, biotechnology all favor big players, and inevitably remove power from individuals. Renewable energy, IT, 3D printing, … are among the technologies that return the power to individuals. The world as a whole would develop according to the dynamics among these technologies.

4. Democracy promotes growth
As many more parties are involved in energy generation and management, the process has to become more transparent, with more information to empower single individuals. Those information (data) can then be used to promote innovation. Everyone can then contribute to the grid: new practices/services to save electricity, new pieces of software for automation, new electricity appliances, etc.

In conclusion, I believe that as long as the politics play out right, the German is going down the right path with tremendous benefit to their economy and society. This blog post is therefore a prediction that would be revisited by the upcoming turns of decades.

Piracy is not Theft (It’s Piracy)

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As a citizen of a Third-world country, I have been using pirated stuffs for years. Not until recently when I started working in a First-world country that I decided to pay for what I use. Even then, I still feel ripped off at times.

The guity feeling piracy caused me was that of theft, although not as much. It makes me wonder if I were really stealing.

Of course, I did not steal. What I did was to make unauthorized copies of something: a software, a music track, or a movie. By doing so, I was gaining something, without paying back to the copyright holder. After I make my copy, the copyright holder does not lose anything, or only a negligible amount of thing. What they lost was a potential sale, which accounts to zero dollar, because I would never be able to buy such stuff even if no pirated copies were available. Holywood movies, for example, are created with the US audiences in mind. Letting an isolated African watches such a movie does not make the company lose any money, nor any money to be stolen. The value was never there to begin with.

This confusion comes from these facts:
– It costs nearly zero to make copies of these Intellectual Properties.
– Supply: Infinity. Demand: elastic according to the pricing.

So, instead of making a “copy” of a rice bowl, and asking the African for the cost of “copying”, the US companies are making copies with zero cost, and ask the African for a ridiculous price over its movie.

It’s worth noting, however, that intellectual property exists from ancient times. Copyright and piracy only arise recently as the mere artifacts of the computer and the Internet that renders the traditional pricing model invalid. Piracy is the result of the current flawed pricing model.

The unavoidable question is, then, what is a better pricing model.

People don’t buy the movie. They buy the experience of watching it. For example, I don’t care about The Avengers itself. I do care that I want some laugh, have some surprise from the plot, and has something to discuss with friends that have watched it. Any movies other than The Avengers that can serve my need can also replace it.

There are such products in the current market: Spotify and Netflix to name a few. Even cinemas offer such products. You go to the cinema to have the experience of watching movies in widescreens with high quality sound effects, pop-corns, friends and other audiences. In the long run, I think copyright holders will obtain their income from two main sources: delivering the experience by themselves (liveshows or cinemas), and through a subscriber model (Spotify or Netflix). The latter will play a more and more important role, as they are in the better position to affect the users’ attention.

As for softwares, downloads will be reduced to minimize the risk of piracy. Enterprise softwares will be priced by customization & maintenance service, while popular softwares will gradually be replaced by online apps which are either free or very cheap. There may be niche markets where this prediction fails, because there are so few parties in those markets to bring the market to an equilibrium, graduate-level textbooks, for example.

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