Friday, June 27, 2008
The joy of...

Disclaimer: The term 'carsurfing' has a totally different connotation outside of this blog. Carsurfing, in regular parlance, is any activity which involves riding on the outside of a moving car, such as was depicted by Zoe Bell's character in Death Proof. As fun as all that might sound, that is not what was meant in this post or the previous one.

posted by Hong at 4:36 pm | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Following on from one of the suggestions from the previous post, perhaps it would be interesting to set up a kind of couchsurfing-esque website for carpooling. With the sheer number of people driving around the clock from one location to another in otherwise empty cars it seems inefficient not to make full use of all available space in a vehicle. In areas with high degrees of vehicle ownership and participation, it would not be unimaginable for one to be able get a lift at any time of day with minimum fuss and at no cost.

This is how it would work: A registered user who will be heading to 1 Utama at seven o’clock in the evening posts an offer on the website earlier in the day indicating his destination and time of embarkation, then sets the duration of the offer. Along with this he indicates his general area of residence and catchment area, within which the driver is willing to pick up passengers. This may be as wide-ranging as blanket coverage on a town or as focused as a path through selected streets.

Other interested users can respond to the offer as long as they are: within his catchment area, his destination is the same as that of the driver or is at some point along the way, the passenger slots have not all been taken up, it is within the valid offer duration. The driver can check for requests at any time during or after the offer period and respond to those persons he would like to ferry as long as this is done before his stated time of departure. Enquiring users can also select a time limit for a response to their request, after which it is automatically revoked. This is to give flexibility to would-be passengers to plan ahead with alternative offers should the driver select other passengers. As time is an important factor in such transactions, it would be possible for responses to be sent via mobile text as well as through e-mail. Once arrangements have been finalised, passengers only have to wait at the mutually agreed upon pick-up point for the driver and Bob's your uncle.

The entire system would run on recommendations and ratings. Those who give out more rides than they take will have healthy carpooling ratios while freeloaders who only hitch rides but never offer one back will suffer from poor ratios and find that fewer drivers are willing to pick them up. Drivers will also be rated and given comments by their passengers and vice versa. This is not only to identify those prone to tardiness or bad driving or disruptive behaviour but allows users to identify others with similar sense of what is 'appropriate'—one man’s poor lane discipline is another’s slick maneuvering, after all.

Each user would be the centre of a set of contacts organized by degrees of trust and familiarity. Those most trusted or most familiar (family and personal friends) would occupy the layer closest to centre with those of which one has less knowledge (friends of friends by varying degrees of separation or complete strangers) would occupy progressively distal layers. Every successful transaction—defined as a happy driver and a happy passenger at the end of the trip—not only ups participants’ ratings, it leads to an increase in the familiarity quotient of one in the other’s network. It then becomes easy to identify drivers or passengers with whom one’s own trusted friends has had successful dealings. This entire system could be piggybacked on an existing social networking sites such as Facebook for obvious reasons.

The advantages of the scheme are multiple. Firstly, on the most basic level, there would be decent savings to be made by participants in terms of their monthly fuel expenditure, so long as one does not operate an excessively vast catchment area. Secondly, this service could also provide a means for strengthening social cohesiveness within the boundaries of physical neighbourhoods, which can bring about numerous benefits. Thirdly, it stands to supplant our disappointing public transportation system, forcing operators to better their services or fold. Lastly, and most interestingly, such a system could potentially seed a future network for labour-exchange services similar to the Cincinnati Time Store or other time-based currency projects, which would offer an alternative means of trade more broadly equitable to everyone regardless of income.

Not bad at all for just driving around a little more friendly-like.

posted by Hong at 7:19 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cries of foul rang out long and hard in Malaysia when petrol rates rose by 40 percent from an artificially suppressed RM1.92 on 5 June, and all over the country misgivings were voiced regarding the link between government corruption and decreased fuel subsidies. Yes, Petronas, and by extension the government, has much to answer for in terms of where its profits have been directed to—its summarized annual reports being next to useless for that purpose, despite what the CEO says—but that is only one side of the equation.

The other half has to do with our own profligate attitude towards energy consumption. Cars driven when a five-minute walk would do; building designs more reliant on batteries of air-conditioning units and arrays of artificial lights than natural ventilation and daylighting; dismal application of solar power in a country well-suited for it—all these practices reflect a wider pattern of excessive energy dependency fostered by cheap fuel, a pattern which merely contributes to the crunch every time local petrol prices rise (and they will rise again).

So instead of being content to point fingers at the government while wallowing in our inability to wean ourselves from a pampered mode of consumption, we should see this 'crisis' (Special Period, it is not) in a more positive light: that is, a timely impetus to push for energy efficiency. We should take this opportunity to vastly improve decrepit and inefficient public transportation networks, promote carpooling, popularize self-propelled forms of conveyance, endorse energy savings standards, foster research into alternative forms of energy, encourage locally or personally cultivated produce and discourage wastage.

If one believes in peak oil or global warming then all these measures can only be a boon in the long-run anyway, and even those who do not accept either theory will find it hard to disagree that we need increased resilience to changes in oil prices. At the very least, to walk a little farther and cycle a little more often will be good for the heart. Just as importantly, by reducing our dependency on that which we cannot predict and by bringing more factors under the aegis of local communities we stand to regain greater control of our individual lives regardless of the vagaries of economics or, indeed, politics. To say the government has screwed us over is one thing but to stand by and not do a single thing to change our wasteful habits is to fuck ourselves over doubly.

posted by Hong at 5:31 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, June 16, 2008
Happy birthday

Heman Ravindran
16 June 1980—23 March 2008

posted by Hong at 4:01 pm | Permalink | 1 comments
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Minimax Malaysia

Given Anwar Ibrahim's savvy return from political wilderness and his rapid ascendancy to the forefront of Malaysian consciousness as chief nemesis of the Badawi government, it is not surprising that those displeased with the old consociationist order have come to regard him and his opposition alliance as bringers of truth, justice and equality—the new Malaysian way, so to speak.

Anwar, however, is not the universal panacea we imagine him to be. He is not the man to cure all our ills. He cannot single-handedly extract us by sheer strength of personal conviction (some say political posturing) from the morass we have so willingly led ourselves into. He definitely is not some sort of saviour come from up on high, administering succor to an oppressed people. He is none of the above; he is merely a politician, a member of an occupational class deserving only circumspect regard given that any man who thinks himself good enough to govern is only one short step away from thinking himself good enough to rule.

And yet Anwar is of greater significance than his own self, insomuch as he represents the idea of balance, a diametric symmetry heretofore lacking in Malaysian politics. With this equivalence, in which neither incumbent nor opposition sides can boast a supermajority, we have come one step closer to achieving true democratic checks and balances, for it is only with this parity that we are able to contain the tyranny of the majority. With this we are able to remind government—members of whom are, in the words of Mill, 'merely tenants ... revocable at [our] pleasure'—that they would do well to heed the leverage that citizens hold.

The opposition is therefore of no use other than as a counterweight. Anwar, in and of himself, is of no consequence. Should he make good on his claim to form government by September 16, we should treat his administration with as much skepticism as the we do the current one, and aim to keep from him the same qualified majority denied to Badawi. There are no guarantees in politics, and it would not surprise me to find out that we had simply exchanged one yoke for another, with the difference between the two being merely semantic. If this should indeed come to be, we should have no compunctions about showing them the door too.

Only when we have learned to be wary of all forms of government and their factotums, and only when a strong link between administrative performance and accountability has been firmly established will we see days of better governance; in the meanwhile, we keep voting.

posted by Hong at 6:02 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Qing zhen shu fa

(Image taken from here.)

An example of Sini-style Islamic calligraphy by Shandong native, Haji Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang. This script is used mainly in East Chinese mosques (as opposed to the more Turkic mosques found farther west), a prominent example of which is the Great Mosque Of Xi'an. For: a better understanding of the history of Islam in China, go here; a detailed look at the history of Islamic calligraphy in China, go here; sample works in other scripts, go here.

posted by Hong at 1:12 pm | Permalink | 0 comments