Oh Malaysia

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Back in March I went to Malaysia for 2 weeks, ostensibly for my cousin's wedding but in actuality to eat ridiculous amounts of delicious Malaysian cuisine - Hokkien mee, Soo Kee's beef noodles, Soong Kee's beef noodles, roti canai, "spare parts" noodles, kuih, cendol, mangosteen, jackfruit and durian.

Catching up with relos from all over the world, particularly my cousins & their kids was great. Special thanks to Joo Khim and Hanson for taking us around :)

Every time I visit Malaysia I marvel at the industriousness of the hawkers. Most of them do one thing and do it well. The ecosystem for most hawkers revolves around either a corner lot coffee shop or markets. At the corner lot coffee shop the owner of the coffee shop sells drinks exclusively, and the hawkers will sell food exclusively - each hawker specialising in a small number of dishes.

I've been pondering how this compares to the Australian & American food courts. Essentially they are the same setup - many food vendors centred around shared tables & chairs. But somehow the quality of food found in Malaysian markets & coffee shops is far superior to that found in the typical Westfield food court.

You can feel a certain hunger or drive in Malaysia. Almost every hawker will make it a point to say hi to you, throw you a smile, and say goodbye as you leave. And it's not that plastic hi/goodbye of someone who has been told that it's part of their job description - it's that genuine friendliness you get from your local fruit shop owner, or your local cafe. I wonder if it's possible for an Australian food court to replicate that experience - vendors whose food is so good that people will drive all over town to eat a specific hawker's Hokkien mee or their "spare parts" porridge. Someone like Gamshara Ramen comes to mind.

There are numerous stories of hawkers becoming multimilionaires by solely selling porridge or chee cheong fun. The economics seem straightforward - sell a bowl of noodles for $5, sell 100 of them in a day, 6 days a week and you've got a $150k/year business. Mostly tax free.

We had a chat to one hawker who had been in the same spot for many years, and he mentioned that he now owns 3 houses and didn't need to work but that he would continue doing it as long as he was physically able. When asked why he didn't try to expand his business he stated that he was satisfied with what he had. It's pretty inspiring to see what one can achieve with a simple cart selling noodles.

In the local paper I discovered that Malaysia introduced a minimum wage only this year. RM900/month (Ringgit =~ 0.33 USD, roughly US$300/month). Crime is a big problem in Malaysia, at least in Kuala Lumpur. Many reports of arbitrary slashings and beatings; modus operandi is to chop your victim first, then take his/her wallet, phone, and jewellery. Locals blame this on the high number of immigrants but it's hard to imagine that this isn't at least partially related to the massive income inequality. That iPhone you're holding is 2 months worth of minimum wages.

Weak law enforcement is another issue. Evidently the police aren't paid very well so you see them doing things like waiting on highway exits for drivers to cross a double line prematurely as they emerge from the exit - easy bribes. A quick Google reveals this:

The biggest gainers will be new inspectors who will get a starting salary of RM2,060 compared to RM1,492 previously. Diploma and STPM holders will also be allowed to join the force directly as sergeants and they will start with a basic salary of RM1,500. A sergeant's basic salary previously was RM890.

Those are monthly salaries. RM1500 is about US$500...

It's made me think about what it takes to have a civil society. Could Australia be an equally dangerous place if we allow our wage and basic living standards to fall sufficiently far?

sh linked a really interesting post about Google Glass today:

The Google Glass feature no one is talking about

Although I'm generally pro-Google Glass I think this raises a couple of really important issues. One is privacy, the other is forced participation.

When I think about privacy there are two main aspects. One is the physical -- who, where, and how observation is occurring. The second is temporal locality.

When you're out and about you can generally tell who is observing you, and how. You can see if someone is looking at you, and you can tell when someone is pointing a camera your way (generally speaking, I'm ignoring creepers here).

What changed with digital recording and the Internet is two things -- the ability to cheaply create & archive digital recordings made distribution easier, and the reach of the Internet made it possible to reach audiences much larger than the original real world audience.

e.g. you may fart in a train of 15 people but the subsequent upload to YouTube may reach millions of viewers. You farted in public and felt embarrassed but embarrassment in front of 15 people is different to 10 million, possibly including your friends, family, professional acquaintances etc.

Digital recording & the Internet also changed the temporal aspect of privacy. Without a recording that moment of embarrassment is exactly that - a moment. Maybe a few of your fellow passengers will tell the story to their friends for giggles but after a few weeks most would have forgotten about the incident. But when it's recorded & uploaded to the Internet it will remain there probably forever.

The technology to record what Glass does exists in your smartphone today. What's different with Glass is that it makes surreptitious recording the norm, and its tight integration with Google, leading to the concern that such recordings may be archived & searchable forever more.

The more worrying issue that the linked post raises is that these factors combine to make participation compulsory for all.

The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience - it's the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.


Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you've ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google's cloud - whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between - will instantly bring up documentation of every word you've ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this.

On one hand the idea of forced participation is extremely distasteful. People should not be forced to significantly alter their behaviour (e.g. having to wear disguises or not be seen/heard in public) because of Google Glass. That said, society decides collectively what trade-offs it is willing to make for the perceived benefits.

Our experience with Google StreetView, Facebook, and smartphones shows that as a whole we adapt quickly to intrusions upon our privacy, for good or bad. Glass will be no different -- there will be a period of debate as to what is and isn't acceptable followed by establishment of new norms; the question is what those new norms should be.

One option may be for Google to mitigate these issues by mirroring real world restrictions on the digitised data. e.g. if I record a video at 12pm at McDonalds Wynyard they might limit access (including searchability) to those who were physically present at the time.

There are still major problems with that - people need to trust Google to do it correctly (i.e. expect regular lapses in controls because Google is ultimately a collection of fallible humans), and it doesn't address the surveillance concerns since if the evidence exists it can always be subpoenaed.

My brain hurts.

"In software engineering, an anti-pattern (or antipattern) is a pattern used in social or business operations or software engineering that may be commonly used but is ineffective and/or counterproductive in practice." -- Wikipedia

I've been a CommSec customer for ~12 years now. For the most part they are a decent broker -- reasonable brokerage and a service that largely Just Works. A recent change led to the discovery of some peculiarities of their operations that led to this post.

The story begins in 2001 when I signed up for CommSec and they offered (and still offer) a discounted brokerage rate for clients who also opened a Direct Investment Account (CDIA). This was a transaction account offering ATM access + interest rates somewhere between the typical transaction account (zero interest) and a savings account (high interest).

All was good until 2008 when they started advertising a new CommSec Cash Management product comprised of two new accounts -- the CommSec Cash Account (CCA) and the CommSec Investment Account (CIA). I had a brief look at these products but they offered nothing of value except more hassle - instead of one account I would have two!

In 2009 CommSec advised that they were discontinuing the CDIA and to continue receiving the preferred Internet brokerage rate I'd have to sign up for a CCA + CIA. Great, whatever. I signed up like a good little lamby, no dramas except now I had two more sets of BSB & Account Numbers to manage.

Shortly after I went into a CommBank branch to bank a dividend cheque (this was 2009, and actually in 2013 there are still companies that send out cheques). I was told that as the new CCA is a CommSec product CommBank branches don't handle any of their transactions. That's really great as a CommSec customer -- I've been forced off an old product onto a new, lesser product.

Anti-pattern #1 - force your customers onto new, shittier products

Of course, the bank accounts were never an appealing part of CommSec's service, I only got one because it gave me better brokerage rates.

On to 13th December 2012, I received this email:

DAFUQ YO! I seriously double checked the date to make sure it wasn't a repost from 2001.

So let me get this straight. In 2009 CommSec forced all of their existing CDIA holders onto their new CCA+CIA package. Just 4 years later they force those customers back onto a "new" CDIA which is exactly the firetruckin' same as the product in 2009. DAFUQ YO!

CommSec Product Management

But that isn't Anti-pattern #2, no-ho-ho!

Anti-pattern #2 - force your clients to change BSB & Account numbers not once, but twice, in 4 years.

I don't pretend to understand how BSB numbers work but the one thing I do know as ordinary Joe Consumer is that whole banks have been traded without a single one of their customers needing to change account details. Hey CommBank -- you guys even did it with BankWest, how about doing the same magic for your loyal CommSec customers?

Changing BSB & Account numbers is annoying because as a public company shareholder you then need to update those details with various share registrars... which leads us to anti-pattern #3 and #4.

Armed with my new CDIA details I went to Computershare and in a single online form submission I updated my payment details for ~12 holdings. That's awesome and how it should be done.

Anti-pattern #3 is brought to you by Link Market Services.

Translation:

We kinda don't trust our website. We think it's less secure than you hand writing a signature onto some dead wood pulp and sending it to us via the post because we trust all of those intermediaries much more than we do our own website security

Anti-pattern #3 - tell your clients that you don't trust your own website security enough to let them transact online

Last but not least, we return to CommSec for Anti-pattern #4.

I thought that if CommSec is going to force all of their customers to change account details the least they could do is update their own systems to use the new account details. That was too much to ask.

I have a Margin Loan with CommSec which needs to be linked to a transaction account for topups/withdrawals. It is currently linked to my non-existent CCA and should be linked to my new CDIA. It's not.

I emailed CommSec to ask if/when this change would/should occur and received the following:

Thank you for your enquiry regarding our new CDIA account. My name is Louise, and your service specialist.


Yes, we will most certainly have linked your new CDIA to your Margin Loan for future settlements

I hope this information has been helpful. If you have any further questions, please reply to this email and I will be happy to further assist.

DAFUQ YO. Do you think I am emailing you for my entertainment? It's clearly not the case and if you'd taken the 5 seconds to look at my account you would know that.

Anti-pattern #4 - employ customer service representatives who prefer not to operate on facts

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