The First Up All Steel Bicycle

29 06 2008

Yesterday I was asked to accompany my mother, uncle and aunt to her house in Kuala Selangor. My aunt had recently lost her husband (My uncle passed away at the age of 82 from complications resulting from a stroke) and this trip was made to meet up with his children (from his first marriage) and her daughter to settle her affairs with them. Her house is to be sold after settling all family matters today. So closing a long chapter in her life.

So after an early Sunday morning breakfast, the four of us got into my uncle’s car and started our journey to Kuala Selangor. The journey there via a slightly different route was quite educational. My uncle took us on a route I have not used for at least 8 years and my how things have changed.

My late uncle’s belongings were to be divided among his children who were all in attendance today. With permission from my Aunt, they started sifting through his possessions and deciding which ones would go to whom. Being a simple man for most of his life, my late uncle did not have many possessions. But as I walked through the small house I saw something that piqued my interest. Under a pile of old clothing, a long coil of soiled rope and old newspapers was an old bicycle, still upright on it’s sidestand.

The First Up Bicycle

The bicycle is of an all steel construction as professed by the many stickers on the bicycle, “The First Up, the all steel bicycle”. Although i did not have a scale, it easily weighed in at over 20 kilogrammes. I particularly liked the promise written on the downtube of the bicycle, ” First Up Bicycles are manufactured to last a lifetime of good riding”. I would bet that if I took over the bicycle, it would even outlive me and still provide some excellent riding. They don’t make them like they used to anymore.

At the front fork of the bicycle was something I rarely ever see anymore, a dynamo to power the single light on the bicycle for night riding. Nowadays most lights are powered by batteries. Inspecting the bicycle closely, I found that under all that dust was a paintwork is still not tarnished by rust. The accessories like brake calipers and rims all showed signs of rust but not the bicycle frame itself! Now that is what I call workmanship. And finally I discovered some that each bicycle produced by this company had been given unique serial number which can be found on the seat post clamp.

As we sifted through more of my uncles belongings we realised that he had kept newspapers from as far back as 23years ago! even the newspapers that he used to line his drawers were at least 5 to 6 years old.

This newspaper was dated the 8th of February 1983. Some 23 years ago! It carried 4 pages of pictures on the 80th birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s First Prime Minister. My uncle it seemed was a great fan of this man. Just before noon, my uncle who is actually brother in law to both my mother and aunt gathered everyone of the children around the front of the house to discuss any outstanding issues and bring my late uncle’s affairs to an amicable close.


National Service Video

28 06 2008

Since it’s inception in 2001 the Malaysian version of National Service has attracted a lot of debate especially of late when another trainee died. Too Hui Min (pictured below) died in May of this year after suffering from constipation and stomach pains for 4 days before being sent to a hospital. She died soon after from a colon infection according to the official report.

In the same month 10 out of 300 National Service trainees from the Semanggol Camp in Taiping were hospitalised and another 80 were treated in the camp for fever, the cause of which is still unknown. The camp’s 300 trainees were also quarantined. To top it all off, parents were not informed of the incident and some only knew about it when their children did not arrive home on the appointed date! Children will fall sick especially when put in a new environment, pushed into physical activity and fed meals which are foreign to some. Nobody can really question why they fall sick….illness can strick anyone. BUt it is the attitude of the caretakers and the management of these camps which should be questioned. Why was Too Hui Min’s condition not attended to earlier? Why were the parents of the 300 trainees not informed? Was it a lack of supervision that led to 16 children dying at our National Service camps?

A few years ago, a relative of my brother in law died while undergoing National Service. He was bullied and in a fight which occurred in his dorm he was killed. How was this allowed to happen? Today I came across a video which highlights this problem.

I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this video but if true, then the authorities must seek out these boys and investigate why the caretakers allowed this to happen. Never have I heard of Camp Trainers and staff being punished. Dependent on volunteers for their pool of trainers, the government is probably unwilling to carry out a proper investigation into these incidents and punish those found negligent. I am not against National Service even in the form practiced by Singapore and Taiwan where every citizen (in the case of the former) or male (in the case of Taiwan) who reaches the age of 17 is mandated to join the programme for a period of 2 years. The participants in those country’s National Service are given basic training and then attached to the various units of the country’s “national Services” such as the military, police force and emergency rescue services. Now that IS National Service. The Malaysian “National Service” which lasts for 3 months is nothing more than summer camp touted to encourage interracial understanding and harmony which is sadly lacking in our society nowadays. If that is it’s reason for being, then 3 months is a waste of time. Lack of proper supervision in these camps make it a dangerous place for some of these children who are not used to being on their own. And from reading some of their blogs and reading their response to questions posed by newspapers, they remain children upon leaving these camps. To me National Service should serve not only to populate the “services” but to also ease children into adulthood. With proper guidance and influence, 2 years would go a long way to promote understanding amongst the races and nurture interracial harmony. The keyword I believe should be “desensitize’. The politics of this country has been the major factor of racial polarization. Each race is now so sensitive to criticisms from another that they isolate themselves from each other. I believe a properly implemented National Service Programme will serve the country well and be accepted by the majority. In it’s current form, the programme is a farce. An elaborate scheme to show that something is being done to alleviate the problems of racial polarization, religious intolerance and social inequalities.

George Carlin Dies at 71

23 06 2008

Yes George Carlin is dead, and he would have liked for the headlines to be that way. Direct. George Carlin is DEAD, not “passed away” or “no more with us”. Many of you probably haven’t heard of George Carlin but he is to me one of the original and most sincere stand up comedian I know. He is famous for mentioning the “7 unmentionable words on TV” on TV. Huh? Go figure. Robin Williams, another stand up comedian whose jokes I love has always been “decent” but George took it upon himself to breach the lines of decency, morality and obscenity. I cannot write a more appropriate epitaph than to showcase some of his best performance here. I personally liked this one where he talked about “language” and the art of “beating around the bush”.

I think he has a point there. By trying to “smooth the language over” we have lost the art of speaking our minds….or should I say the courage? See, even my title (and Yahoo headlines) says “George Carlin dies at 71” instead of simply “George Carlin is dead”. We have programmed ourselves to be overly nice that we have lost the knack to be direct, confrontational. And to my boss who today said to me, “It’s the way things are done in this company, we cover each other, smooth things over” (with the proper language I might add), to my boss I say, “To hell with it, just say what you mean and mean what you say”.

Here is George again talking about White People,

And finally if you have the time, his 1978 classic in which he mentioned the “7 umentionable words on TV” on TV. He was actually arrested and freed on a US$150 bail for mentioning those words on TV in 1972.

Rest in peace George. Hope you’re having a blast now.

Sunday Car Mart & the Magic Magnets

22 06 2008

Being a lovely Sunday morning I decided to ride my bicycle to my favourite restaurant for an Indian style breakfast. After breakfast I rode past one of the largest Sunday Car Market in Malaysia. it is situated in Petaling Jaya New Town. It was started years ago by a man who rented the covered parking lot in New Town every Sunday and charged people who wanted to display their cars. If I remember well, I paid RM30 to display my Mazda 323 for 3 consecutive Sundays. The idea was to eliminate the middle men of 2nd hand car dealers who often buy cars at well below market prices before selling them on for a few thousand ringgit more. But that is no longer true, at least not inside the original site of the Sunday Car Mart.

The top 2 pictures show just 2 rows of vehicles for sale in the covered parking lot. Notice that these 3 cars had similiar for sale signs? That’s because these vehicles are being sold by the same 2nd hand car dealer. In fact most of the cars on display within the 3 floors of this parking lot belonged to such dealers. I only saw a few genuine vehicle owners who were selling their cars personally.

But popularity of the Sunday Car Mart had long ago overgrown the capacity of the covered parking lot. People have taken to displaying their vehicles for sale for free in the parking lots and along the streets surrounding this building. Even these open air parking lots cannot cope with the demand for space and often cars for sale are seen double parked withing the parking lot and along the streets of New Town. The atmosphere here is much more merrier with a higher percentage of car owners involved in selling their own vehicles. I saw this 1983 Mercedes Benz 200 for sale. It didn’t look bad for a car it’s age

The Sunday Car Mart also attracts many people who set up stalls which sell auto related products such as car care products, car alarm systems and even auto insurance. Cycling along at a slow pace I came across these 2 men selling an interesting product. I have heard of it before and have even had a relative purchase it for his vehicle but i have never approached someone selling the product. Their product claims to reduce fuel consumption of a vehicle by 35% whilst boosting power by up to 25%! And what is the product? Well, for RM199 you will buy yourself a set of very powerful magnets that you assemble around your fuel line closest to the point where it enters your carburettor or engine. These 2 guys claim Malaysian fuel is dirty because it contains a high proportion of carbon! Actually by virtue of being a hydrocarbon, petrol contains 85-88% carbon and 12-15% hydrogen. “Dirty” fuels are caused by impurities such as suplhur. Anyway, they go on to explain that their product works by “magnetising” the carbon molecules in the fuel causing it to disperse much more evenly in the combustion chamber. You can visit their website here for a closer look at their product.

The claims of extraordinary fuel savings coupled with the recent fuel price increase has resulted in a lot of interest in this product. But I have serious doubts as to their claims. Firstly, although petrol might have electromagnetic properties much like water it would take much more then the power of a magnet to have an effect on the individual molecules. It takes the power in a microwave oven to have any effect on water molecules! And I don’t think anybody is going to start microwaving fuel as they sell it to you. “Would you like your fuel microwaved sir? With the economy you’ll get, you’ll see us less and less.” Yeah right, that big bright flash of light is probably the last thing you’ll ever see. Secondly, if all it takes is to attach a few magnets to the fuel line to get a 35% increase in fuel efficiency why haven’t any car manufacturers installed them in their cars? After all, fuel efficiency is a big selling point these days. So think carefully and do some research before you invest in any device, especially those with incredulous claims of performance.

Air Crash Investigation

21 06 2008

I don’t think this one will actually make the show you see on Discovery Channel but you can almost be sure of it being a world’s first. Buba Jemmah, a student pilot at flying school in Florida had recently crashed a full sized aircraft simulator! I am quite sure the investigation into this incident would rival any real Air Crash Investigation. And with no loss of life, I am sure this incident would generate a lot more laughter than tears. The president of the school was quoted saying,”This is unprecedented. Nothing like this has ever happened in the aviation training world. These things are bolted to the floor!”

In the aviation industry pilots and often maintenance personnel are trained on a flight simulator like the one in the article. The machines are much more complex then the “simulators” you can buy as programs which you load into your personal computers. These are life sized cockpits mounted on hydraulically articulated platforms that give feeling of realistic movement to the occupants of the simulator. A majority of these platforms use a variation Stewart Platform which uses 6 hydraulic actuators giving the platform 6 degrees of freedom (DoF). In the video below you can see a crane mounted on such a platform.

The occupants of a flight simulator is placed on such a platform has no view of the outside world except probably through a small window in the entry/exit door of the simulator. With no external references, the motion of the platform would trick our senses into believing we are actually encountering real motion and acceleration in response to control stick input. I have no doubt that the sense of realism compounded this student’s mistake and caused him to panic. Somehow he had managed to cause one or more of the actuators to throw the whole platform off balance and rip it out of its mountings. I am sure the his instructor offered a silent prayer that he was not in a real aircraft with this student at the controls.

The one pictured above is owned and operated by Swiss International Airlines or SwissAir. Some of these simulators can cost as much as a small business jet. When in operation, the drawbridge you see on the right is retracted allowing the platform it’s full freedom of movement. If you ever have the chance to see one of these simulators, ask the person guiding you for a full motion demonstration, even if he is the one doing the “flying”. The degree of realism would really surprise you.

Bike Shopping

16 06 2008

For the most part of this afternoon my young friend and I went around looking for a 2nd hand motorbike. With the recent increase in fuel prices he decided that he would be better off using a motorbike to work. It would seem that a lot of people had had the same idea and much earlier too. The night before he and I had sat in his living room calling several people who had advertised to sell their machines on a bike trading magazine called Motortrader. Guess what? We had between us called 17 people who had advertisements in that magazine, all of them had sold their bikes! And only 1 admitted he had sold it for only RM100 less than his asking price. I guess the motorbike lanes I use on the way to work everyday will soon be filled with more of these machines.

So after spending a few hours looking for a bike and talking to my mechanic, my friend decided he would have a better look at a bike he had found the day before. The both of us tested the bike and found it surprisingly well kept although some wear and tear parts were, well worn and torn. The front tires and rear sprockets were definitely in need of replacement. We had tried to get the bike shop owner to throw these in as part of the sale but he would not have it. It was basically an “as is where is” deal. All he offered was an engine oil change and a very cheap helmet.

As he was on a limited budget, my friend chose to insure his “new” machine on a Third Party insurance plan. I must admit the cost of a comprehensive insurance plan was a bit prohibitive. It would have cost him 10% of the value of the bike! I guess it all has to do with the high incidence of bike theft in this country.

After completing some paperwork needed for the change of ownership, my friend came out to choose his el cheapo free helmet, which I hope (if he read this) will choose to upgrade first. That is the one thing lacking among motorbike riders in Malaysia. They would choose machines that would give them the best of what they are looking for, be it economy, power, looks or fun factor but few would choose to spend good money for a good crash helmet !

So after the engine oil and filter replacement and some basic maintenance, my friend was able to take home his new machine. And for slightly under RM2000, it was a bargain. In the last 2 days we had come across 11 year old motorbikes with an asking price of RM2600! That’s just about RM1500 down from it’s original purchase price. So it seems that the recent fuel price hikes has also affected the resale value of sub 150 c.c motorbikes. If you’re thinking of looking for one, you had better do it soon.

Testimony of Michael W. Masters

9 06 2008

In the recent months commodity prices around the world including food and oil has spiked and caused great misery to millions of people. Some are at risk of severe malnourishment and even starvation to the point of death. Aid organizations such as World Food Programme are running out of funds due to the rising cost of food.

Mr. Michael W. Masters is a managing member of Masters Capital Management LLC. On the 20th of May this year, Mr. Masters presented a written testimony to a Congressional sub committee of the United States of America. In his testimony, which I have attached at the end of this post, he exposed Institutional Investors as the cause of these unusual spikes in commodity prices.

The document is rather long but Mr. Masters has made most of his case in the first 5 pages. As I understand it, these Institutional Investors or what he terms as Index Speculators differ from the normal speculator in that they bring with them a huge working fund. They are also insensitive to current prices of the commodity. In the Mr. Masters own words, “They are not concerned with price per unit, they will buy as many futures contracts as they need , at whatever price necessary, until all their money has been “put to work”. Looking at it another way, what Index Speculators have done is to “stockpile” future deliveries in that commodity thus creating an artificial shortage of these contracts. He goes on to say that in the past, the trading of “futures” represented 2% of the trade in that commodity, hardly affecting its price. But in 2004, Index Speculators poured US$25 billion which amounted to 18% of the futures market. In the first 52 days of this year (2008), they have bought up US$55 billion worth of futures contracts. This then drives up the price of all futures contract that become available. It is a rather complex mechanism that I am only starting to appreciate after reading his testimony.

On page 8 Mr. Masters has made a call to eliminate if not outlaw Index Speculators. Here then is his testimony.


Footnote: Japan has recently suspended the trading of rice in the futures market and India has suspended domestic futures trading in a few selected commodities to prevent inflationary effects of the futures trade.