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20130129 Tuesday January 29, 2013

Measuring the Progress of Singapore by GPI vs GDP Growth

In Singapore, for decades, we have been led to believe that attempting to drive GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth at all costs is a desirable goal. However, what we need is a new benchmark, a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) that captures aspects of quality of living that the GDP figure alone cannot.

I quote from this report by Mark Anielski, Senior Fellow with Redefining Progress (San Francisco) and Director of the Green Economics Program at the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development :

"The litany of crimes against genuine progress that GDP accounting sustains include:

* GDP adds up all money transactions without accounting for costs.
* GDP takes no account of the inequality of income, wealth and spending power.
* GDP treats crime, imprisonment, divorce and other forms of family and social breakdown as economic gain, yet the value of housework, parenting and volunteering count for nothing.
* GDP increases with each environmental calamity, each polluting activity and then again in repairing the damage.
* GDP does not account for the depletion or degradation of natural resources and the environment.
* GDP treats war expenditures as economic gain both during the destruction and the rebuilding phases.
* GDP ignores the liabilities of living on debt and foreign borrowing."

In other words, GDP more or less fails to capture essentially everything that supports life and makes life worth living : the environment, natural resources, happiness, family, parenting, and such, and a blind pursuit of GDP growth actually encourages activities that lead to the destruction of all of the above.

A rather dramatic case in point : during the year of 1944, during World War 2, the GDP growth of the USA was an astounding 28.14%. Building tanks, guns, bullets, bombs, fighters and bombers had led to an astronomically high GDP growth rate. Going by this same logic, then perhaps having a World War 3 would drive GDP growth rates just as high, if not higher!! But that is obviously not a very happy conclusion for everyone, besides perhaps the military-linked sector of industry.

Thus I have read with great concern the recently released Population White Paper which called for an increase in the population of Singapore by up to 6.9 million by 2030. That would entail increasing the population density of Singapore from the present status over 7,000 people per square km to approaching 10,000 people per square km. We have already surpassed the extremely high population density levels of Tokyo and seem to be vying for the absolute world record in this area.

Even if heavy infrastructure investing and spending on developing every available piece of land towards housing, transport, healthcare facilities and such could be done in a physical sense given enough money being thrown at the problem, it does not necessarily lead to a better outcome for all.

I quote from this article from the World Health Organization by Edmund Ramsden regarding a famed rat overpopulation study conducted in 1962 by ecologist John Calhoun :

"He had placed several rats in a laboratory in a converted barn where - protected from disease and predation and supplied with food, water and bedding - they bred rapidly. The one thing they were lacking was space, a fact that became increasingly problematic as what he liked to describe as his "rat city" and "rodent utopia" teemed with animals. Unwanted social contact occurred with increasing frequency, leading to increased stress and aggression. Following the work of the physiologist, Hans Selye, it seemed that the adrenal system offered the standard binary solution: fight or flight. But in the sealed enclosure, flight was impossible. Violence quickly spiralled out of control. Cannibalism and infanticide followed. Males became hypersexual, pansexual and, an increasing proportion, homosexual. Calhoun called this vortex "a behavioural sink". Their numbers fell into terminal decline and the population tailed off to extinction. At the experiments' end, the only animals still alive had survived at an immense psychological cost: asexual and utterly withdrawn, they clustered in a vacant huddled mass. Even when reintroduced to normal rodent communities, these "socially autistic" animals remained isolated until death."

It can be easily seen that increasing population without regard for the social and mental consequences only hastens us towards the breaking point. Furthermore, nowhere in the Population White Paper has there been any mention of key performance indicators regarding the Quality of Life (QoL). If the cost of economic growth going by GDP growth figures is an increasingly stressed and unhappy population, then what is the point in continuing to emphasize such GDP figures?

In addition, if the bias is towards increasing the proportion of working age population in order to support a "dynamic economy" as called for in the White Paper, wouldn't the extreme and logical conclusion be to outsource the elderly out of the country? One could imagine exactly how popular that kind of thinking would be, not to mention the potential political costs of expressing such an idea. In fact, this idea had been mentioned before and one could recall that it had not been particularly well-received. Besides, isn't this simple age discrimination by any other name?

Hence, there has to be a better way of measuring the progress of Singapore besides looking at GDP growth alone, and the practice of importing population to drive such growth needs to be balanced against the ability of the society to cope with such change. More inclusive indicators besides GDP need to be brought into play. A point of stability needs to be reached, and the principles of sustainable development need to be thought through and implemented. Just as in the familiar case of an ever increasing car population vs the limited carrying capacity of roads, the human population in the country cannot be expected to grow forever without "something breaking" along the way.

(2013-01-29 23:00:36 SGT) [Biz] Permalink

20121107 Wednesday November 07, 2012

Gold, oil and other commodities prices rise on US election

news.yahoo.com :

Gold is surging as voters cast ballots in an extremely close U.S. presidential election. Gold prices for December delivery increased 2% Tuesday to finish at $1,715 per ounce. Other commodities were mostly higher, including oil prices which ended up 3.6%. Traders are waiting for the results of the hard-fought race between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Analysts say the outcome could determine the future course of Federal Reserve's economic stimulus measures, which have benefited commodities. Commodities also are being supported by a weaker dollar. Since commodities are priced in dollars, a weaker dollar makes them cheaper for traders who use other currencies like the euro.

- As painful as it was for gold investors and other net long gold traders to watch, last week's almost jump-off-the-cliff drop in Comex gold prices has been matched by this week's vertical climb. It's a refreshing change for one thing, and hopefully with the conclusion of the US elections, there would be somewhat more certainty in the market environment, both in the commodities futures exchanges as well as in the broader stock markets. Hopefully, this doesn't turn out to be a 1-day wonder, though looking at the short-term chart one can already see some tapering off there.

Looking at the longer-term 1-year gold chart, one can see that the gold price has done almost nothing for close to a year, remaining range-bound within a $100 range above and below $1650. It would take a decisive break above $1750 or even better, $1800 to prove once and for all that we're out of this frustratingly range-bound consolidation.

Given the positive 50/200-dma upside crossover, it looks like there may be a better than even chance of that occurring. Add to that the bounce off oversold conditions, and if the momentum continues going in the same direction then a renewed assault on the old heights of $1900 and above would not seem too far-fetched a possibility.

And if there is to be a "one more thing", it is this : the longer term gold chart looks like a damped spring once again. The last time this phenomenon was mentioned here, gold prices were pivoting about the 1200 range and the time window was about 6 months. We've seen how prices have gone up since then.

This time round, the scale is apparently much larger (and so are the stakes as well). The pivot point is now about 1700 and the time window is 1.5 years, give or take a few weeks. Though history may not repeat exactly, there's still a good chance of it rhyming regardless, hence from a longer term chart we could see a possibility of beyond $2000 gold prices within the next couple of years or so.

See also :

1. Inflation, Investing and Everything
2. Gold price as a damped spring

(2012-11-07 10:12:07 SGT) [Biz] Permalink

20121031 Wednesday October 31, 2012

Singapore Bugis crash Ferrari speed confirmed to be 178 km/h

news.insing.com :

The Ferrari driver who crashed into a taxi in Bugis was going at a speed of 178kmh before the collision. This was almost three times the average speed limit of 60 km/h for Singapore roads. The Coroner's Court saw a video footage that showed Ma Chi had stepped on the pedal to increase speed from 169km/h to 178kmh/ between the pedestrian crossing in front of Bugis Village and at the point of collision. He crashed into a taxi, which hit a motorcycle. Three people died - Ma, taxi driver Cheng Teck Hock, 52, and the taxi's passenger Shigemi Ito. A female passenger in Ma's car, Wu Weiwei, and a motorcyclist, Muhammad Najib Ghazali, were seriously injured.

The confirmation has just come in today that the Ferrari which went past a red light and crashed into a taxi at the Bugis traffic junction had been travelling at 178 km/h, thus verifying the earlier calculations posted here that had put down the speed at 180 km/h plus or minus 30 km/h. That's not too far off considering the limited amount of information to work with in the first place - just 6 or 7 frames of video from which the timing was deduced, and a Google Maps distance measurement at a grainy maximum zoom level.

See also :

1. Singapore Bugis Ferrari crash speed estimate

(2012-10-31 17:50:29 SGT) [Tech] Permalink

20120516 Wednesday May 16, 2012

Singapore Bugis Ferrari crash speed estimate

This is an initial speed estimate of the Ferrari that rammed into the taxi at Bugis Junction, Singapore early in the morning of 5th May 2012. The story and video can be viewed here. Other links, opinions and commentary can be found online on Facebook and other social networking sites.

The usual disclaimers apply : I am not an expert in this area. I am filing this under the Tech section while utilizing appropriate technical tools available to try to come to an estimate, and to show how this could be derived based on currently available data.

Speed = distance divided by time, so we need to estimate both the distance travelled and the time taken. Let's start with the time factor. We shall first look at the video recorded by the other taxi that fortunately escaped the collision. The first frame that shows the Ferrari crossing the second line of the pedestrian crossing is as follows :

7 frames later, the Ferrari has crashed into the side of the taxi :

If we examine the meta-data on the video, we note that it is running at 25 frames per second (25fps) :

7 frames divided by 25 frames per second gives us 0.28 seconds. We need to divide further by 60 to get it in minutes, and divide again by 60 to normalize it into the hours unit which is 7.778E-5 hr, which we then note down.

Next, we need to estimate the distance travelled. Whereas a more accurate method would be of course to go down to the scene and carry out measurements on the spot, the next best estimate we might be able to get is from using the measurement tool on Google Maps while setting it to the maximum possible zoom level without going into Street View mode. This is as follows :

We have 14 meters, give or take perhaps a meter or two. Normalizing it into the kilometer unit, we get 0.014km. Hence, the initial estimate of the speed is 0.014 km / 7.778E-5 hour = 180 km/h.

No doubt there could be questions about counting the frames in the video. Each frame is 0.04 seconds long, and let's say the count is off by 1 frame or less (i.e. between 6 and 7 frames). In addition, the line drawn with the measurement tool on Google Maps could be perhaps shorter by a meter or two (give or take). We plug these figures into a spreadsheet and arrive at a matrix of various speed estimates :

As can be seen, the speed estimates range from 154 to 210 km/h, depending on the two variables of frame count and distance travelled. The speed of the Ferrari based on the above estimation is thus 180 km/h +/- 30 km/h.

(2012-05-16 21:48:21 SGT) [Tech] Permalink Comments [2]

20120331 Saturday March 31, 2012

Get UOB Singapore to implement electronic statements

Spread the word. You can write in too with your own variation.

To UOB Singapore via internal email (under Email Us icon after login to internet banking) :

"As Earth Hour is today and Earth Day is coming up not too long after this, I am writing in to request that UOB Singapore consider implementing electronic statements for all UOB accounts, whether credit cards or savings accounts, in order to save on paper and transport costs as well as the associated waste and greenhouse emissions involved. Of all the banks I am a customer of, including DBS/POSB, Citibank, OCBC etc, UOB is the only bank that has not provided such a facility as far as I know. Hence, please do consider providing this capability or if there is one already, please point me to where I can sign up for it. Thank you."


(2012-03-31 12:11:32 SGT) [Env] Permalink

20120116 Monday January 16, 2012

On the DBS/POSB ATM card fraud case in Singapore

So I've been writing in to a Minister once again. Probably not the first or last person to bring up these simple facts to Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister for Finance of Singapore, but I thought I would contribute my two cents (ha, ha). Here it goes :

Delivered-To: ...
Subject: Improving security for ATM/NETS cards
From: Low Ee Mien [...]
To: tharman_s@mof.gov.sg

Dear Minister for Finance,

I am writing in my personal capacity regarding the recent DBS/POSB ATM fraud case. As we have seen, the two-factor authentication mechanism of ATM/NETS cards has been defeated. The perpetrators have managed to successfully obtain both factors of authentication : something you have (ATM card details via the card skimming device), and something you know (ATM PIN via a strategically-located pinhole camera).

It has been proven time and again that the magnetic stripe data such as those being used in the ATM and NETS cards in Singapore is quite easily copied. This magnetic stripe technology was invented over 50 years ago and is able to contain at most a few bytes of information, and has no processing capability of any sort, nor any form of cryptographic technology to resist cloning or tampering. In short, this is a completely outdated technolgy that the whole of our nation is using for our daily financial transactions, at thousands of retail establishments, ATM's, top-up kiosks, and so on.

Something needs to be done about this glaring security vulnerability.

As you can see from the link below, Malaysia's Maybank is already ahead of Singapore in this respect :

The Maybank ATM card includes an embedded smartcard chip, which as their website states, offers "Increased security, as the smart chip is tamper-resistant and the data stored is harder to extract and copy". This is the key point : smartcard technology, well established by now, mitigates many of the shortcomings of magnetic stripes. It is much harder to simply clone compared to magnetic stripes and requires sophisticated and intrusive physical attacks to get to the private key data contained in the smartcard chip. The technology currently required to carry out such attacks does not fit in a simple card skimmer that can be installed in an ATM card slot. Other security measures such as revocation of the certificates of any particular set of smartcards can be carried out on demand. In addition, manufacturers have already included a number of on-board security measures in smartcard processor chips to resist cloning and tampering.

Hence, in the interest of increased security for banking customers, I would like to suggest that MAS work towards regulations requiring all banks issuing ATM and NETS cards to include embedded smartcard technology such as the EMV technology being used by VISA and other credit card issuers.

As an additional security measure, I would also like to suggest industry-wide regulation to eventually disallow transaction fallback to magnetic strip reading, thus removing one of the main factors contributing to ATM card fraud. The ultimate goal is for ATM/NETS cards to be issued *without* any form of magnetic stripes whatsoever, and ATM's as well as POS terminals to be updated to smartcard-acceptance only, thus finally retiring this outdated 50-year old magnetic stripe technology.

Thank you for your attention.

Low Ee Mien (Mr)

- Sure, smartcards are not impossible to defeat, but they are much harder than the increasingly laughable magnetic stripes, with card skimmers being more readily available nowadays, even apparently custom fitted to closely resemble the "anti-intrusion" devices installed over the ATM card slots. Some have said that 3D printers have now been used to create the exact shapes of these "anti-skimming" devices, or Fraudulent Device Inhibitor (FDI), in an ironic application of cutting-edge technology being used to defeat a simple physical device that was meant to guard against just such occurrences of card skimmers being installed.

The measures announced by the bank are well and fine, such as blocking foreign ATM withdrawals for folks who have not used them overseas, sending out SMS messages and so on, but all these reek of reactionary and stop-gap measures.

I don't quite agree with the DBS CEO's claim that replacing the magstripes with smartcard chips has its own set of problems, such as : "The problem with that is it's a huge inconvenience to customers. When you go to the US, they don't accept chip cards". My man, the world is moving away from this outdated magstripe technology, I am frankly surprised and amazed simply that Singapore has not gone along and our neighbour Malaysia has. Fact is, we are actually behind Maybank Malaysia in this area and there's quite a bit of catching up to do.

(2012-01-16 11:41:39 SGT) [Musings] Permalink

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