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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dr. Faiz Khaled - Don't Push Your Luck!

Tak Ada Maknanya!!

The more I read about our now uncertain astronaut programme, the more I'm convinced that our second astronaut candidate, Major Dr. Faiz Khaled is getting more and more desperate to get his ass to outer space.

I can understand the army dentist's predicament. His colleague - Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is already on cloud nine with all the glamour and glory after being the first Malaysian to go to space and spend a few days at the International Space Station, hence earning the UKM physician cum model the undisputable title of "Angkasawan Pertama Negara" or something like that.

But the thing is my dear Dr. Faiz Khaled, more and more Malaysians are now convinced that it is a total waste of money to send you for another excursion to space. Money that we don't have. Faham tak?

Please don't patronise us with your now so boring standard quotes like "the aerospace industry is an investment by Malaysia in education, science and technology" or "the angkasawan programme would inspire more young Malaysians to excel in science and technology" and a million other gobbledygook. Tolonglah!

Newly appointed Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili already said that the ministry, which is in charge of the Malaysian space programme, does not have sufficient funds in its coffers to finance Dr Faiz's taxi ride to space because this time around, the government would have to foot the bill in full, about RM100 million or perhaps even more, compared to Dr. Sheikh's taxi ride which was under a contra-deal made with the Russians when we bought the Sukhoi MKM-30 air superiority fighter jets for the RMAF. Itupun the Malaysian government still had to fork out quite a sum to finance both Dr Sheikh's and Dr. Faiz's zig zagging between Malaysia and Russia for training and all. So there you have it - kita dah memang tak ada duit nak hantar awak pergi angkasa lepas, reti?

This is exactly the problem with Dr Faiz Khaled and even Dr Sheikh for that matter. Dua-dua perasan bagus. They think they are so cool already just because they are the country's astronauts (well, almost for Dr Faiz). They should be ashamed if they compared themselves with the US astronauts, Russians cosmonauts and Chinese taikonauts. You know why? I'll tell you why. Let's take US astronauts for example. Most of them are either US Air Force, US Army, US Navy or US Marine Corp pilots who have logged more than 6,000 flying hours (both combat and peace time) which is one of the pre-requisites to even be considered for entry into the coveted US Astronaut Corp under NASA. And that's not all. Being merely military pilots does not qualify them automatically. They must also possess degrees or double degrees in core science disciplines related to aerospace or space science such as nano-physics, nuclear-physics, astro-physics, advanced biology, advanced chemistry etc. etc. etc. This would enable them to either become mission commanders (meaning flying the space shuttle using their military aviation background) or mission specialists (meaning they can conduct high tech and meaningful science & technology experiments in space using their academic background). In short, US astronauts are required to be all rounders.

That's just the paper qualifications. And then comes the training. US astronauts train for a minimum of 7 to 8 years prior to lift off to space. Itu pun belum tentu dapat pergi, tau tak? There is no guarantee by NASA that you will get a seat in the space shuttle even if you have trained for that many years. Because it's so competitive and standards are very, very high. You'd be lucky if you are in the first back-up team or second back-up team.

Having said all that, it is also the same for the Russian cosmonauts and Chinese taikonauts. Most of them are military aviators with superior academic background. Bukannya macam our angkasawan yang undergo abridged training for 18 months. Dr Sheikh and Dr Faiz attended "short-cut" training because the cash-strapped Russians already promised the Malaysian government that by hook or by crook, one of the boys would be in space within the agreed timeframe.

And when Dr Sheikh returned to earth and back to Malaysia, what did we get?? Did we benefit at all? Well, perhaps school kids are inspired and excited to see the angkasawan when he conducts motivational talks at their school but that's as good as it gets. Where on earth are all the end results of the experiments he conducted for the good of mankind? Are we ever going to be at least informed of the end results no matter how long it takes? Hmm, memang tak ada le tu rasanya. As usual, Malaysia end up with dirt again, being suckered big time by Russia.

So, here's an advice to Dr. Faiz - stop whining and if you don't get to go, deal with it. No need to justify with all sorts of comments in the media. Kalau dapat pergi, bagus, Alhamdulillah. Kalau tak dapat, duduk aje diam-diam.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

We Cannot Simply Compare Based On Forex

Malaysia's ERL - better than London's Heathrow Express?? Wow!

I'm so sick and tired of both the government and private sector who has the tendency to compare loosely based on foreign exchange when justifying their claims that prices in Malaysia (for whatever products or services) are cheaper than other countries.

The latest was Dr. Aminuddin Adnan, CEO of Express Rail Link (ERL) Sdn Bhd who said that the ERL (Malaysia's high speed train from Kuala Lumpur to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport) is better than the ones in Europe, particularly the Heathrow Express. The story was published in the New Straits Times yesterday. The statement was made by the CEO to refute claims by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad Workers Union president Abdul Razak Md Hassan that the service was not practical and cost-effective in a report in Mingguan Malaysia on Sunday when rejecting a proposal by YTL Corporation (ERL's parent company) to start a bullet train service from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.

Come on, ERL better than Heathrow Express? Oh please. I've been on the latter during my visits to London - you cannot compare with ERL. Period.

Anyway, what Dr Aminuddin meant by saying ERL is better than the ones in Europe was in terms of cost and also ticket price. The CEO claims that overall expenditure on the project was RM2 billion, which remained the lowest cost per kilometre, or RM35 million, (20 per cent of the cost of Heathrow Express in London).

Aminuddin added that the ERL service was 99.7 per cent reliable, which was much better than similar services in Europe or local train services. He also said the RM35 fee per trip was significantly cheaper than in London which charged STG17 (RM107) for half the distance.

Now, this is what I want to refute - it costs RM107 for a ride on the Heathrow Express from Heathrow International Airport to London's Paddington Station. Of course it would cost that much for a Malaysian but for a British, it is a straight forward 17 bloody pounds! And to the Brits, 17 bloody pounds is the same as RM17, get it?! If Dr Aminuddin really wants to claim that ERL is cheap, why not reduce the price from RM35 to say RM20? I'd say that's a fair price, don't you think?

This is exactly our problem. We like to compare loosely based on foreign exchange. I'll give you a simple example. Say you travel to London for a vacation and you walk into a McDonald's for your favourite Double Cheeseburger. Here in Malaysia, the burger would cost about RM4.75 or let's just round it up to RM5. In London, the same burger would cost about STG3.50 or let's just round it up to STG4. Okay, and now comes the foreign exchange calculation - STG4 x 7.5 = RM30. Would you say that the Double Cheeseburger in London is bloody expensive because its RM30?? Or would you just take it at face value, and pay the bloody STG4 like any other Brit for the burger? If we are so obsessed with calculating forex, don't even bother to holiday in Europe, US, Australia or any country of which the forex is to our disadvantage. Because the fact is, our Ringgit is what it is at the moment, not as strong as the USD, STG, Euro or the AUD.

And I won't even bother to discuss about our government's tendency to compare, again loosely on forex, when claiming that our fuel prices are the cheapest in South East Asia (except for Brunei). Meaning Brunei is still the cheapest, right? And what about fuel prices in the United States? Over there in the great land of Uncle Sam, they charge fuel by the gallons. Miles per gallon. That's why Americans can afford to drive fuel guzzlers with mammoth engine capacity - V8s, V10s, V12s. We're talking 5.0 or 6.0 litres family sedans and SUVs here.
Stop this nonsense comparison please!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Goodbye EPL Title, Try Again Next Season Gunners

It's all cast in stone now. Arsenal will not lift the EPL title this season after losing 1-2 to MU at Old Trafford early this morning (Malaysian time).

This also means no silverware at all for the Gunners this season after failing to advance to the semis of the Champions League (no thanks to Liverfool) and also the FA Cup (again, no thanks to MU). It's a pity really because Arsenal performed exceptionally well at the start of the season on to mid-season but unfortunately, kind of lost its magic towards the end.

Arsenal has two options now. Either win all remaining four games and hope MU loses at least three (yeah, right!) or just take it easy and really focus for next season. I'd say go for option one - win all four games and at least end the season with some dignity. Who knows, Gunners can even secure second spot and knock Chelsea down to third.
Whatever it is, Arsenal played a splendid game against MU yesterday. They fought till the end. Lady luck just weren't on their side. They deserved to win. I hate MU. Period.

Oh, here's a message to Owen Hargreaves who scored MU's winning goal - you're only great in England, you won't even be playing in Euro 2008 because England won't be there. Sucker!

Anyway, to Arsenal, I will always love you guys and support you forever. I've been supporting you guys since I was 8 years old.

Go Gunners!