Customer Service with a Snarl !

Service with a snarl

But Then Again By Mary Schneider

Gone are the days when you can expect politeness and pleasant smiles from your friendly customer service troops.

WHAT’S happening to customer service these days? I feel as if I’m constantly battling with technical support staff and frontline personnel who are becoming more and more rude and inept at their jobs.

Take the other day, for example, when I woke up to find that my car battery was as dead as Paris Hilton’s singing career, forcing me to seek out my nearest car repair shop to get it charged.

As I entered the premises, I was met by a manageress who looked as if she had a lemon stuck to the roof of her mouth. Rather than welcoming my business, she was surly and brusque to the point of rudeness.

Four hours later, when I called to find out how the battery charging was progressing, the Dragon Lady told me, somewhat haughtily, that I had to be patient. Later still, when I called again for another update, she breathed fire down the line and gave me the impression that I was harassing her.

The following morning, a baby-faced mechanic showed up at my house with my super-charged battery, a few tools and a packet of cigarettes.

“Surely, re-installing my battery won’t take so long that you need to have a cigarette break,” I wanted to say, but didn’t.

As he fiddled with the battery, I glanced at the packet of cigarettes lying on my doorstep. The front of the packet had a picture of what looked like a premature baby with an oxygen mask strapped to its tiny face.

“Look what cigarettes can do to unborn babies!” I wanted to say to the young man working beneath my bonnet, but didn’t.

You’d think that someone so youthful and agile would be able to install that battery before you could finish saying: “Did you know that Paris Hilton once cut a record?” But this chap redefined the word “slow”.

I watched impatiently as he attempted to connect the cables to the battery terminals using a spanner that was too big to get the job done – for a full 10 minutes.

Then he turned to me and said: “Do you have a size 10 spanner? I forgot mine.”

Like who did he think I was? The Fix-it Queen? His question would be tantamount to a cardiologist asking his patient if she happened to have a bypass machine in her overnight bag, just before administering the anaesthetic for her heart transplant surgery.

Nonetheless, I did have such a spanner conveniently stashed in a drawer by the front door – where I’d left it after removing the battery the day before. I produced it with a flourish, expecting Babyface to be surprised. But he took it from me as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

After connecting the cables, he spent a gazillion years trying to clamp the battery into place. As I watched him, entire species of animals became extinct, thousands of babies were born (some of them looking like the picture on the cigarette box), continental plates grunted and groaned, and stock markets around the world plunged ever deeper into crisis.

When his slothfulness became unbearable to watch, I withdrew into the living room and began writing a list of things that I needed to do as soon as I was mobile again.

No sooner had I written the first item (get recommendations for a new service centre) when Babyface poked his head around the door and asked for my car key.

Now, my car has two keys. One for the alarm system, and the other for the ignition. How was I to know that he wouldn’t know his arse from his elbow and would attempt to start the car with the wrong key, causing the alarm to go into “let’s disturb the entire neighbourhood” mode.

At this stage I was so agitated, that I took the key from his nicotine stained hand and said, in a somewhat irritated tone: “What have you done?”

He responded by uttering the four words that are guaranteed to make me more agitated: “Now please calm down!”

Ten minutes later, as he was slipping the premature baby into his back pocket, he turned to me and said: “My boss sent me here because I am the only one who can speak English. I usually work with Japanese cars, which are very complicated. Malaysian cars like your Proton Waja are very simple, but I don’t know how to repair them.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or feel sorry for him.

But I do know where not to go if I have a flat battery in the future.

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The need to be assertive

Project Management InstituteImage by craig.martell via Flickr


One should be allowed to say ‘no’ and make a stand on an issue without feeling guilty or harassed.

RECENTLY, I met a female friend in Putrajaya who looked upset. I then decided to take her out for coffeee to find out the cause of her worries and stress.

My friend then confessed that she was unable to bring herself to tell a male member of her team that his sexist remarks to female team-mates were hurtful and that he should refrain from doing so.

I told her to be assertive and that she should tell him that such negative remarks should stop immediately.

“I am a woman and women aren’t like that,” she responded.

Since she is of a gentle, passive nature, I offered her some tips on being assertive and how it could help improve confidence and self-esteem.

Assertiveness is about having the confidence to have your say, to live your life without resorting to passive, aggressive or even manipulative behaviour.

It’s also about being not afraid to state your own needs while listening to the views of the other person, which in turn boosts your confidence and self-esteem.

A complicating factor in all this is about an individual’s childhood and culture.

For example, people who grew up with very strict parents and dominant older siblings may be less assertive.

Also, certain cultural values in which stereotypical behaviour of submissiveness, especially amongst girls, is bound to make behaviour at the work place more challenging.

However in some instances, whatever one’s childhood or cultural background, passive or aggressive behaviour may be a means of achieving their desired goals and it comes naturally.

Just observe some men who yell or women who sulk, or vice versa!

Assertiveness is a better option for desired outcomes because unlike the emotional basis of passive or aggressive behaviour, it is rooted in thinking and planning.

It is a savvy assessment of your needs and feelings in the light of practicalities, and the other person’s position. It can be learnt and is appropriate for men and women. It is also sensitive to different cultural values.

Assertiveness is also based on “rights”. They include the treatment of other people as equals, regardless of gender, race, age, disability or status.

Being assertive also means that one is able to to ask for what he wants, and to be listened to seriously. An individual should also be allowed to have this own opinions and to say “no” without feeling guilty and to change his mind and to hold to his own values.

As an exercise in self esteem-building, try saying out loud to your reflection in a mirror that you can do and carry out the tasks that worry you.

Keep telling yourself that, “I can do statistical work” or “I will make a good presentation”.

Do this several times a day. It does help, especially when you support confidence-building with practical steps like reading a book on basic statistics or on presentation skills. Situations that require assertiveness are usually stressful.

Fortunately, there is a simple exercise which will help relieve physical symptoms of stress like a rapidly-beating heart, sweaty palms or even a high-piched voice.

Before meeting the other party, press both palms of your hands together with the fingers pointing upwards and your forearms horizontal, until you feel the pressure in the heels of the palms and under your arms.

Breathe in and out slowly through a slightly open mouth, tightening the muscles between the ribs as you exhale and then relaxing them before you start the inhalation. Do three or four repetitions. It works.

If you read a previous article on body language you will remember that your body cues must match your words.

Adopt a relaxed stance, have good eye contact; hold your arms loosely at your sides or in your lap if seated; face tand lean slightly towards the other person.

Speak at normal conversational volume. Try to end with a smile.

The language of assertiveness is clear, direct and concise. This is about you: what you feel and want.

It is essential to use language appropriate to the person you are talking to, and not fall back on vocabulary, concepts or jargon beyond the other person’s understanding.

Assertiveness is not about superiority or cleverness.

“Should” and “could” are words to be used with caution when you want to be assertive.

“Could you do that for me?” “Could I ask for time off for all that overtime I worked?” “You should stop making sexist remarks!”

They create confusion to the listener about the legitimacy of your request.

The assertive wording would be “Please do that”; “I would like time off ….”; “Stop making….”

“Hope” is another word which interferes with your choices. You chose to work late because you can and want to. “I hope I can work late” implies doubt.

Assertiveness is thinking and speaking positively with confidence. It’s also about an honest evaluation of the situation and the other person and his/her opinions and needs before you even raise an issue. Is compromise possible? Are there personal considerations with the other person that need to be taken into account?

Avoid implied character criticism. “Please do/do not do something” is clear but neutral. “Why can’t you just do/not do…” implies a criticism of a specific character rather than a specific task in hand.

If what you ask for creates strong emotion in the other person, acknowledge this with a defusing statement such as: “I see you are unhappy with what I have just said, but I think it’s important for you to know my position and for us to have an open chat about it”.

Recognising the other person’s opinion is another good way of keeping the situation on an even keel: “I understand what you are saying BUT…..”.

Never use antagonistic phrases like: “Let me repeat”, “Are you listening?” or “Don’t interrupt”. And criticism without suggesting a solution is irrelevant and not at all helpful.

If you are in the position of having to apologise for a mistake, do it once, not repeatedly.

Be specific about why things went wrong. Don’t over-elaborate. Everyone makes a mistake now and then, even the boss.

Criticising a colleague is tough. But it will win you respect in the long run provided you do so in private and are fair, firm and specific.

Try and thank the other person if possible at the end of the conversation.

“Thank you for giving me the time to talk about this” or “I’m glad you understand”. Such statement will make both of you feel better.

Assertiveness is a way of life. It won’t always bring you a happy outcome.

However, it will make you comfortable with yourself and generate respect amongst colleagues and friends.

By the way, it may interest you to know that my friend feels a lot better now after being successful in putting an end to the sexist remarks in her office!

Alex Cummins is a trainer with the Professional Development Unit of the Brtish Council in Kuala Lumpur.

Rumblings of change

Map showing ASEAN member states Legend ██ ASEA...Image via Wikipedia


With the fast-rising giant that is today’s China, few established things can be assumed to be the same.

EVENTS that have become established through routine tend not to create a fuss, whatever the contentious issue may be.

However, when routine events produce surprising results, the implications may multiply exponentially. Such is the case with annual US arms sales to Taiwan, and China’s angry reactions to them.

Even though different years may see different combinations of disagreements between Beijing and Washington, the arms sales drama played out between the two capitals over a largely silent Taipei is an annual soap opera worth noting for the scale of its implications.

US plans to sell Taiwan US$6.4bil (RM20.3bil) of weapons last year strained relations between Beijing and Washington badly. Not only was this the largest amount in nearly 20 years, it came together with several other disagreements at the time.

The result was that Beijing suspended military relations with the US from January, besides considering sanctions against private US arms makers involved. The sale was a left-over from the preceding Bush administration’s policy that the Obama White House had tried to usher through.

This year it was “arms sales to Taiwan time” in Washington again. Taiwan had asked for a considerable package, but the US had been having second thoughts.

Taipei had sought a range of new weapons including a new fleet of F-16 jet fighters. But this time Washington said no, mindful of Beijing’s ire.

Instead of the new F-16s, Taiwan will instead get US$5.85bil (RM18.5bil) of “upgrades” for its existing fleet. That in turn led to some bipartisan criticism of the Obama administration in Congress.

Interestingly, Taiwan did not complain about the downgraded weapons sales. Instead it officially congratulated Washington for “going ahead” with its arms sales programme, all too aware of its weak position in the strategic triangle.

For China, any US military aid to Taiwan is still military assistance that could be used to attack the mainland, so Beijing protested all the same. But the atmosphere this time has become less antagonistic.

Just as the US had said no to Taiwan, albeit within limits, China’s protests were largely limited to news media commentaries and defence establishment statements. Both the US and China have come to a new understanding of each other’s concerns and their mutual interests.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi assured US businessmen in New York that bilateral relations would continue to grow, right after asking Washington to stop the jet upgrades. Those upgrades were not going to stop, especially when they were already a softer alternative to the full-blown sale of new F-16s, and China seemed satisfied enough with that.

Military might

The other issues at stake this year include China’s own military development, of which China watchers in the US are taking due note. However, a more significant factor for the US is a possible run on the dollar given that so much of US wealth, and loans, lies in China’s hands.

For its part, China is arranging for its next president, Xi Jinping, to visit Washington later this year. That means no souring of relations with the US is to be advised.

The US itself is gearing up for a presidential election next year. Washington is therefore understandably on its toes for now in regard to its relations with a fast-rising China.

All of this seems to leave some of the smaller countries in East Asia somewhat disoriented. Accustomed to US military and diplomatic dominance in the region for more than half a century, any sign of the US receding into the Pacific distance can be disconcerting for them.

This applies particularly to those countries that had hosted US military bases for decades.

Two days ago, the Philippines tried to form an Asean front by establishing a panel of legal experts in dealing with China’s claim over disputed islands in the South China Sea. The government of President Benigno Aquino III has consistently been active on this issue, notwithstanding the limited response it has received.

One reason for the apparent lack of Asean enthusiasm for Aquino’s plans is that he is trying to tackle a huge and long-established issue as Asean’s youngest leader with no clear direction.

Another reason is that Manila is sending confusing if not also conflicting signals over the issue. Last week the Philippines announced that Aquino would bring the issue of the disputed islands to Japan on his visit to Tokyo.

Japan has no involvement with claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea, although like the Philippines and Taiwan it has a security arrangement with the United States. Those arrangements vary in their terms and degree of US obligations, so taken together they are asymmetrical and non-comparable.

There is a sense in Asean that if disputes within Asean have yet to be solved within and by Asean, they are unlikely to be solved outside Asean.

To compound the confusion further, President Aquino was in Beijing from late last month to early this month soliciting for Chinese investment in the Philippines. From 2009 to 2010, bilateral trade grew more than 35%.

Aquino then said the trade was mostly in China’s favour, and he would like to balance it. He is more likely to succeed there than in competing claims over territory.

A current strand of opinion among US strategic thinkers is that the Philippines is beginning to see China as a “big brother” substitute for the US in East Asia. But given Manila’s actions and policies so far, nobody is likely to know what the Philippines wants to do, least of all Filipino lawmakers themselves.

NASA satellite falls back to Earth !

Dead satellite likely fell into Pacific Ocean–maybe

By: William Harwood, CNET

NASA’s decommissioned 6.3-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, out of gas and out of control after two decades in space, plunged back into the atmosphere early Saturday, heating up, breaking apart, and presumably showering chunks of debris along a 500-mile-long Pacific Ocean impact zone. Maybe.

U.S. Strategic Command radar tracking indicated re-entry would occur around 12:16 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) Saturday as the satellite was descending across the Pacific Ocean on a southwest-to-northeast trajectory approaching Canada’s west coast. If re-entry occurred on or before the predicted time, any wreckage that survived atmospheric heating almost certainly fell into the Pacific Ocean.

NASA’s derelict Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell to Earth Saturday, presumably into the Pacific Ocean west of Canada. But it’s not yet a sure thing.

“Because we don’t know where the re-entry point actually was, we don’t know where the debris field might be,” said Nicholas Johnson, chief orbital debris scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

“If the re-entry point was at the (predicted time) of 04:16 GMT, then all that debris wound up in the Pacific Ocean. If the re-entry point occurred earlier than that, practically the entire pass before 04:16…is over water. So the only way debris could have probably reached land would be if the re-entry occurred after 04:16.”

Johnson said amateur satellite watchers in the U.S. northwest and the Canadian southwest were “looking to observe UARS as it came over. Every one of those attempts came up negative. That would suggest that the re-entry did, in fact, occur before it reached the North American coast, which, again, would mean most of this debris fell into the Pacific.”

But it’s not yet certain and it’s equally possible a delayed re-entry resulted in debris falling somewhere in northern Canada or elsewhere along the trajectory.

“We may never know,” Johnson told reporters in an afternoon teleconference.

The centerpiece of a $750 million mission, the Upper Atmosphere Research satellite was launched from the shuttle Discovery at 12:23 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) on Sept. 15, 1991. The solar-powered satellite studied a wide variety of atmospheric phenomena, including the depletion of Earth’s ozone layer 15 to 30 miles up.

The long-lived satellite was decommissioned in 2005, and one side of its orbit was lowered using the last of its fuel to hasten re-entry and minimize the chances of orbital collisions that could produce even more orbital debris. No more fuel was available for maneuvering and the satellite’s re-entry was “uncontrolled.”

As with all satellites in low-Earth orbit, UARS was a victim of atmospheric drag, the slow but steady reduction in velocity, and thus altitude, caused by flying through the tenuous extreme upper atmosphere at some five miles per second.

UARS’ final trajectory as it neared the discernible atmosphere proved difficult to predict. The descent slowed somewhat Friday, presumably because the spacecraft’s orientation changed. As the day wore on, the predicted impact time slipped from Friday afternoon to early Saturday.

Johnson said falling satellites typically begin breaking up at an altitude of around 50 miles. In the case of UARS, computer analysis indicated about 26 pieces of debris would survive to reach the surface, spread out along a 500-mile-long down-range footprint. Johnson said the heel of the footprint, the area where the lightest debris might fall, is typically 300 miles or so beyond the breakup point.

But so far, “we’ve got no reports of anyone seeing anything that we believe are credible,” Johnson said.

Johnson told reporters last week he expected most of the satellite to burn up as it slammed into the dense lower atmosphere at more than 17,000 mph. But computer software used to analyze possible re-entry outcomes predicted 26 pieces of debris would survive to impact the surface, the largest weighing some 330 pounds. Impact velocities were expected to range from 30 mph to 240 mph.

“We looked at those 26 pieces and how big they are, and we’ve looked at the fact they can hit anywhere in the world between 57 north and 57 south, and we looked at what the population density of the world is,” he said. “Numerically, it comes out to a chance of 1 in 3,200 that one person anywhere in the world might be struck by a piece of debris. Those are obviously very, very low odds that anybody’s going to be impacted by this debris.”

For comparison, some 42.5 tons of wreckage from the shuttle Columbia hit the ground in a footprint stretching from central Texas to Louisiana when the orbiter broke apart during re-entry in 2003. No one on the ground was injured and no significant property damage was reported.

The UARS satellite is deployed into orbit in 1992.

An astronaut picture of the UARS satellite being deployed in 1991.

Photograph courtesy NASA

An astronaut picture of the UARS satellite being deployed in 1991.

Photograph courtesy NASA

Traci Watson for National Geographic News

Defying predictions one last time, NASA‘s doomed UARS satellite dove through Earth’s atmosphere late last night over the North Pacific Ocean, off the U.S. West Coast, the space agency says. (Also see “Space Debris: Five Unexpected Objects That Fell to Earth.”)

As recently as Friday morning, U.S. officials had forecast that the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, or UARS, would fall out of the sky in the late afternoon or early evening Friday, eastern time.

(See “NASA Satellite Falling Faster Due to Solar Activity.”)

But the satellite shifted position as it tumbled toward the planet, forcing scientists to throw out their earlier time estimates.

NASA said early Saturday that UARS fell out of orbit sometime between 11:23 p.m. and 1:09 a.m. ET.

Amateur satellite trackers in places such as San Antonio, Texas, and northern Minnesota reported catching glimpses of UARS as it made its final, doomed circles around Earth.

Though the spacecraft plummeted over the Pacific, it’s still not clear exactly where debris from the satellite has landed. Pieces of the satellite will be strung along a debris “footprint” stretching 500 miles (800 kilometers).

So far there are “no reports of any damage or injury,” NASA said via Twitter close to midday Saturday.

Satellite Pieces Not For Sale

UARS, which weighed more than six tons, was lofted into orbit by the space shuttle Discovery in 1991. The craft recorded data on Earth’s atmosphere until it was switched off in 2005.

Some 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) of debris from the satellite were projected to survive the superheated descent through the atmosphere. The biggest intact piece, NASA said, would probably be a 300-pound (140-kilogram) chunk of the spacecraft’s structure.

NASA warned the curious not to touch any pieces of the spacecraft that may have made it to the ground, because of the risk of sharp edges.

The space agency also tried to head off sales of UARS remnants on Internet auction sites such as eBay.

“Any pieces of UARS found are still the property of the country that made it,” NASA warned via Twitter this morning. “You’ll have to give ‘em back to U.S.”

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Lifeless satellite falls back to Earth

(China Daily)

Lifeless satellite falls back to Earth

Junk left from colliding satellites floats through space in this computer-generated image. NASA confirmed that two communication satellites from the United States and Russia collided 800 kilometers above northern Siberia on Sept 10. [Provided to China Daily]

NASA assures public that there is little chance of getting hit by debris

WASHINGTON – Fragments from an old 6-ton NASA satellite hurtled toward Earth on Friday, while the exact site of the crash-landing remained a mystery into the final hours.

The US space agency has stressed that the risk is “extremely small” that any of the 26 chunks that are expected to survive the fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere will hit one of the planet’s seven billion people a one in 3,200 chance.

“Re-entry is possible sometime during the afternoon or early evening of Sept 23, Eastern Daylight Time,” NASA said on its website on Thursday night.

That would be early morning Saturday Beijing time.

“It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any more certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 24 hours.”

The influence of solar flares and the tumbling motion of the satellite make narrowing down the landing a particularly difficult task, experts said as the Internet lit up with rumors of where and when it would fall.

The US Department of Defense and NASA were busy tracking the debris and keeping all federal disaster agencies informed, a NASA spokeswoman said.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice on Thursday to pilots and flight crews of the potential hazard and urged them to “report any observed falling space debris to the appropriate (air traffic control) facility and include position, altitude, time and direction of debris observed,” CNN said.

The satellite was launched in 1991 and was designed to provide data for better understanding Earth’s upper atmosphere and the effects of natural and human interactions on the atmosphere. The satellite was deactivated in 2005 as it ran out of fuel and was left orbiting Earth.

Orbital debris experts say space junk of this size from broken-down satellites and spent rockets tends to fall back to Earth about once a year, though this is the biggest NASA satellite to fall in three decades.

NASA’s Skylab crashed into western Australia in 1979.

The surviving chunks of the tour-bus sized satellite will include titanium fuel tanks, beryllium housing and stainless steel batteries and wheel rims. The parts may weigh as little as one kg or as much as 158 kg, NASA said.

Orbital debris scientists say the pieces will fall somewhere between 57 north latitude and 57 south latitude, which covers most of the populated world.

The debris field is expected to span 800 square kilometers.

Pang Zhihao, a researcher from the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology, told Xinhua that the crash could have been avoided had the satellite been put into a higher orbit, or manipulated to drop in the South Pacific when it had abundant fuel.

Lifeless satellite falls back to Earth

Pang said most spacecraft will incinerate upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, and the debris will mostly likely fall into the ocean or hit an uninhabited area.

NASA has also said that in 50 years of space exploration no one has ever been confirmed injured by falling space junk.

The craft contains no fuel and so is not expected to explode on impact.

“No consideration ever was given to shooting it down,” NASA spokeswoman Beth Dickey said.

NASA has warned anyone who comes across what they believe may be debris not to touch it but to contact authorities for assistance.

Space law professor Frans von der Dunk from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Law told AFP that the United States will likely have to pay damages to any country where the debris falls.

“The damage to be compensated is essentially without limit,” von der Dunk said, referring to the 1972 Liability Convention to which the United States is one of 80 signatories.

“Damage here concerns ‘loss of life, personal injury or other impairment of health; or loss of or damage to property of States or of persons, natural or juridical, or property of international intergovernmental organizations,'” he said, reading from the agreement.

However, the issue could get thornier if the debris causes damage in a country that is not part of the convention.

“The number of countries so far theoretically at risk is rather large, so there may be an issue if damage would be caused to a state not being party to the Liability Convention,” he said.


Huge Tumbling Satellite Could Fall to Earth Over US Tonight or Saturday, NASA Says

by Tariq Malik, Managing Editor
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is in the grasp of the remote manipulator system end effector above the payload bay of the Earth-orbiting Discovery during STS-48 pre-deployment checkout procedures.
The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite is in the grasp of the remote manipulator system end effector above the payload bay of the Earth-orbiting Discovery during STS-48 pre-deployment checkout procedures.
CREDIT: NASA Johnson Space Center

This story was updated at 2:04 p.m. ET

A huge, dead satellite tumbling to Earth is falling slower than expected, and may now plummet down somewhere over the United States tonight or early Saturday, despite forecasts that it would miss North America entirely, NASA officials now say.

The 6 1/2-ton Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) was expected to fall to Earth sometime this afternoon (Sept. 23), but changes in the school bus-size satellite’s motion may push it to early Saturday, according to NASA’s latest observations of the spacecraft.

“The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent,” NASA officials wrote in a morning status update today. “There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent.” [Complete coverage of NASA's falling satellite]

NASA expects about 26 large pieces of the UARS spacecraft to survive re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere and reach the planet’s surface. The biggest piece should weigh about 300 pounds. The spacecraft is the largest NASA satellite to fall from space uncontrolled since 1979. [6 Biggest Spacecraft to Fall Uncontrolled From Space]

NASA officials have said the the chances that a piece of UARS debris hits and injures one of the nearly 7 billion people on the planet are about 1 in 3,200. However, the personal odds of you being struck by UARS satellite debris are actually about 1 in several trillion, NASA officials have said.

As of 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT) today, the UARS satellite was flying in an orbit of about 100 miles by 105 miles (160 kilometers by 170 km), and dropping.  NASA launched the UARS satellite in 1991 to study Earth’s ozone layer and upper atmosphere. The satellite was decommissioned in 2005.

“Re-entry is expected late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time,” NASA officials wrote. “Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite’s rate of descent.”

The sun has had an extremely active week, one that has included several solar flares. High solar activity can cause the Earth’s atmosphere to heat and expand, which can increase drag on a low-flying satellite like UARS, making it fall faster.

Get a snapshot view of NASA's Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which will fall to Earth in 2011, in this infographic.
Get a snapshot view of NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), which will fall to Earth in 2011, in this infographic.
CREDIT: Karl Tate, Contributor

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Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders !

Leadership among bosses

Review by ABBY WONG

Title: Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders: The Three Essential Principles You Need to Become an Extraordinary Leader

Author: Rajeev Peshawaria

Publisher: Free Press

THIS is a simple book yet extremely powerful. The title sounds more like a clich but the author revitalises it, making it highly relevant, significantly thought provoking and incredibly resonating. A roadmap for managers of every level in any organisation, I urge you to read this book for its tremendous benefits.

Of all the bosses you have had in your career, how many do you consider truly great leaders? One might reply, “Not too many.” That is true for bosses these days are merely bosses, not leaders. And if you yourself are a boss, how do your subordinates rate you? One might be tempted to ask before attempting to answer, “Does it matter?” Well, it does. While bad leadership can go undetected, it can cost organisations tremendous amount of money. Again, are you a good leader?

You’re not one if, according to author Rajeev Peshawaria, you don’t take it upon yourself to dig deep and find solutions to the most pressing problems of our times.

Yet there is more than just devoting yourself. Leaders who achieve exceptional results despite the toughest challenges are able to do one simple thing to harness human energy toward a shared purpose. This book is about how to discover, or rediscover if you have lost it in the face of adversity, the energy you have once had to fuel yourself as well as many others to create sustainable collective success.

Again, if you think that is hackneyed, don’t. Peshawaria, having spent more than twenty years working alongside top executives at some of the biggest corporations in the world, knows precisely what makes and how to be an effective leader. His journey to great leadership is personal and the steps he outlines are simple and intuitive which allows continuing prowess that separates tomorrow’s leaders from today’s bosses.

Leadership is a journey so are the rewards. Because leaders are in it for a long haul, the first step leaders must take is to identify and be clearly convinced of the underlying purpose or values of their leadership endeavour. The emphasis Peshawaria places on this initial commitment is profound because great leadership indeed cannot be pursued without laser-sharp purpose and values. Furthermore, it is this purpose that defines one’s leadership identity and gives the lasting energy to stay on course. But if your purpose is to lead a life enriched by everyday material pleasures gained through your positions, then this book is not for you. You are better off remaining a boss.

Do something different in your life for each economic trajectory, which we most likely will soon witness when technology takes us onto a whole new horizon in solving worldwide problems, gives leadership opportunity. If you have a purpose, like Howard Schultz (chairman and CEO of Starbucks) did back in the 90s, you will have a shot to lead a life enriched by not only materialistic rewards but also satisfaction and meaning.

The same goes to Jeff Bezos of Bezos had a purpose. He then found a channel (a firm), defined the brain (story) of the business, wired it with bones (strategy) that is well understood by everyone in the firm, and aligned it with nerves (cultures). On the outset, brains, bones and nerves maybe the only framework required to energise a business.

Underpinning each pillar of the framework, however, are threads that weave successes and needles that prick them. As a way to demonstrate management of these threads and needles, Peshawaria provides from a large pool of stories on leadership and managerial experiences. Drawn from the little-known philanthropic organisation called Acumen to the highly regarded Goldman Sachs, lessons on characters, fortitude, values, processes and practices abound.

They, too, are simple but by no means simplistic. They are not detailed but in no way less insightful. They help provoke ideas that leaders can use in managing their firms and finding their own paths to great leadership.

Are leaders born or made? Peshawaria thinks while some may be born, leaders can certainly be made as well if they have the will to lead. But do all leaders understand good leadership? No? Read this book.

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Currency War & Exchange RatesTension!

IMF Data Dissemination Systems participants: I...Image via Wikipedia

Tension over exchange rates


Amid heightened fears over eurozone sovereign debt risks and increasing concerns about the health of the United States and eurozone economies, worried investors have flocked to the safety of haven currencies, especially the Swiss franc, and gold.

While investors and speculators have since moved aggressively to buy gold, the switch from being large sellers to buying by a number of emerging nation’s central banks (Mexico, Russia, South Korea and Thailand) has helped propel the price of gold more than 25% higher this year, hitting a record US$1,920 a troy ounce earlier this month. At a time of high uncertainty in the face of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) latest gloomy forecast on global growth, few central banks relish the prospect of a flood of international cash pushing their currencies higher.

Massive over-valuation of their currencies poses an acute threat to their economic well-being, and carries the risk of deflation.

The Swiss franc

Switzerland’s national currency, the CHF, should be used to speculative attacks by now. So much so in the 1970s, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) was forced to impose negative interest rates on foreign investors (who have to pay banks to accept their CHF deposits).

And, it has been true in recent years, with the CHF rising by 43% against the euro since the start of 2010 until mid-August this year. There does not seem to be an alternative to the CHF as a safe haven at the moment.

With what’s going on in the United States, eurozone and Japan, investors have lost faith in the world’s two other haven currencies: US dollar (USD) and the yen.

This reflects the Federal Reserves’ ultra-loose policy stance and the political fiscal impasse in the United States which have scared away investments from the dollar. The prospect that Tokyo might once again intervene to limit the yen’s strength has deterred speculators from betting on further gains from it. To be fair, the CHF has also benefitted from recent signs that the Swiss economy, thanks in large part to its close ties to a resurgent Germany, is thriving.

But enough is enough. SNB made a surprising announcement on Sept 6 that it would buy foreign currencies in “unlimited quantities” to combat a huge over-valuation of the CHF, and keep the franc-euro exchange rate above 1.20 with the “utmost determination.”

On Aug 9, the CHF reached a new record, touching near parity against the euro from 1.25 at the start of the year, while the USD sank to almost CHF 0.70 (from 0.93). The impact so far has been positive: the euro rose 8% on that day and the 1.20 franc level had since stabilised. It was a gamble.

Of course, SNB had intervened before in 2009 and 2010, but in a limited way at a time when the euro was far stronger. But this time, with the nation’s economy buckling under the currency’s massive over-valuation, the risks of doing nothing were far greater. In July last year, following a chequered history of frustrated attempts, SNB vowed it would not intervene again. By then, the central bank was already awash with foreign currency reserves. Worse, the CHF value of these reserves plunged as the currency strengthened. In 2010, SNB recorded a loss of CHF20 billion, and a further CHF10 billion in 1H’11. As a result, SNB came under severe political pressure for not paying the expected dividend. But exporters also demanded further intervention to stop the continuing appreciation.

This time, SNB is up against a stubborn euro-debt crisis which just won’t go away. True, recent efforts have been credible. Indeed, the 1.20 francs looks defensible, even though the CHF remains over-valued. Fair value appears to be closer to 1.30-1.40. But inflation is low; still, the risk of asset-price bubbles remains. What’s worrisome is SNB acted alone. For the European Central Bank (ECB), the danger lies in SNB’s eventual purchases of higher quality German and French eurozone government bonds with the intervention receipts, countering the ECB’s own intervention in the bond market to help weaker members of Europe’s monetary union, including Italy and Spain.

This causes the spread between the yields of these bonds to widen, and pile on further pressure on peripheral economies. Furthermore, unlimited Swiss buying of euro would push up its value, adding to deflationary pressures in the region.

The devil’s trade-off

As I see it, the Swiss really has no other options. SNB has been attempting to drive down the CHF by intervening in the money markets but with little lasting effect. “The current massive over-valuation of the CHF poses an acute threat to the Swiss economy,” where exports accounted for 35% of its gross domestic product. The new policy would help exports and help job security. As of now, there is no support from Europe to drive the euro higher.

SNB is caught in the “devil’s trade-off,” having to choose risking its balance sheet rather than risk “mounting unemployment, deflation and economic damage.” The move is bound to cause distortions and tension over exchange rates globally.

New haven: the Nokkie’

SNB’s new policy stance has sent ripples through currency markets. In Europe, it drove the Norwegian krone (Nokkie) to an eight-year high against the euro as investors sought out alternative safe havens. Since money funds must have a minimum exposure in Europe and, with most European currencies discredited and quality bonds yielding next to nothing, the Nokkie became a principal beneficiary. It offers 3% return for three-month money-market holdings.

Elsewhere, the Swedish krona also gained ground, rising to its strongest level against the euro since June after its central bank left its key interest rates unchanged, while signalling that the rate will only creep up. What’s worrisome is that if there is continuing upward pressure on the Nokkie or the krona, their central banks would act, if needed with taxes and exchange controls. With interest rates at or near zero and fiscal policy exhausted or ruled out politically in the most advanced nations, currencies remain one of the only policy tools left.

At a time of high uncertainty, investors are looking for havens. Apart from gold and some real assets, few countries would welcome fresh inflows which can stir to over-value currencies. Like it or not, speculative capital will still find China and Indonesia particularly attractive.

Yen resists the pressure

SNB’s placement of a “cap” to weaken the CHF has encouraged risk-adverse investors who sought comfort in the franc to turn to the yen instead. So far, the yen has stayed below its record high reached in mid-August. But it remains well above the exporters’ comfort level.

Indeed, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has signalled its readiness to ease policy to help as global growth falters. But so far, the authorities are happy just monitoring and indications are they will resist pressure to be as bold as the Swiss, for three main reasons: (i) unlike to CHF, the yen is not deemed to be particularly strong at this time it’s roughly in line with its 30-year average; (ii) unlike SNB, Japan is expected to respect the G-7’s commitment to market determined exchange rates; and (iii) Japan’s economy is five times the size of Switzerland and the yen trading volume makes defending a pre-set rate in the global markets well-nigh impractical.

Still, they have done so on three occasions over the past 12 months: a record 4.51 trillion yen sell-off on Aug 9 (surpassing the previous daily record of 2.13 trillion yen from Sept 2010).

The operation briefly pushed the USD to 80.25 yen (from 77.1 yen) but the effects quickly waned and the dollar fell back to a record low of 75.9 yen on Aug 19. But, I gather the Finance Ministry needs to meet three conditions for intervention: (a) the yen/USD rate has to be volatile; (b) a simultaneous easing by BoJ; and (c) intervention restricted to one day only.

Given these constraints, it is no wonder MOF has failed to arrest the yen’s underlying trend. In the end, I think the Japanese has learnt to live with it unlike the Swiss who has the motivation and means to resist a strong currency.

Reprieve for the yuan

I sense one of the first casualties of the failing global economic expansion is renewed pressure to further appreciate the yuan. For China, August was a good month to adjust strong exports, high inflation and intense international pressure. As a result, the yuan appreciated against the USD by more than 11%, up from an average of about 5% in the first seven months of the year. However, the surge had begun to fade in the first half of September.

But with the United States and eurozone economic outlook teetering in gloom, China’s latest manufacturing performance had also weakened, reflecting falling overseas demand.

This makes imposing additional currency pressure on exporters a no-go. Meanwhile, inflation has stabilised. Crude oil and imported food prices have declined, reducing inflationary pressure and the incentive to further appreciate the yuan. Looks like September provided a period of some relief. But, make no mistake, the pressure is still there. The fading global recovery may have papered over the cracks. Pressure won’t grind to a halt.

Central banks instinctively try to ward-off massive capital flows appreciating their currencies. There are similarities between what’s happening today, highlighted by the recent defensive move by SNB, and the tension over exchange rates at last year-end. It’s an exercise in pushing the problem next door.

This can be viewed as a consequence of recent Japanese action (Tokyo’s repeated intervention to sell yen). It threatens to start a chain of responses where every central bank tries to weaken its currency in the face of poor global economic prospects and growing uncertainty. So far, the tension has not risen to anything like last year’s level. But with rising political pressure provoking resistance to currency appreciation, the potential for a fresh outbreak remains real. The Brazilian Finance Minister just repeated his warning last year that continuing loose US monetary policies could stoke a currency war.

Growing stress

With the euro under growing stress from sovereign debt problems, the market’s focus is turning back to Japan (prompting a new plan to deal with a strong yen), to non-eurozone nations (Norway, Denmark, Sweden and possibly the United Kingdom) and on to Asia (already the ringgit, rupiah, baht and won are coming under pressure on concerns over uncertainty and capital flight). Similarly, Brazil’s recent actions to limit currency appreciation highlights the dilemma faced by fast growing economies (Turkey, Chile and Russia) since allowing currency appreciation limits domestic overheating but also undermines competitiveness.

This low level currency war between emerging and advanced economies had further unsettled financial markets.

Given the weak economic outlook, most governments would prefer to see their currencies weaken to help exports. The risk, as in the 1930s, is not just “beggar-thy-neighbour” devaluations but resort to a wide range of trade barriers as well. Globally co-ordinated policies under G-20 are preferred. But that’s easier said than done.

So, it is timely for the IMF’s September “World Economic Outlook” to warn of “severe repercussions” to the global economy as the United States and eurozone could face recession and a “lost decade” of growth (a replay of Japan in the 90s) unless nations revamped economic policies. For the United States, this means less reliance on debt and putting its fiscal house in order.

For the eurozone, firm resolution of the debt crisis, including strengthening its banking system. For China, increased reliance on domestic demand. And, for Brazil, cooling an over-heating economy. This weekend, the G-20 is expected to take-up global efforts to rebalance the world overwhelmed by heightened risks to growth and the deepening debt crisis. Focus is expected on the role of exchange rates in rebalancing growth, piling more pressure on China’s yuan.

Frankly, IMF meetings and G-20 gatherings don’t have a track record of getting things done. I don’t expect anything different this time. The outlook just doesn’t look good.

Former banker, Dr Lin is a Harvard educated economist and a British Chartered Scientist who now spends time writing, teaching and promoting public interest. Feedback is most welcome; email:

A crisis of capitalism

The financial problems plaguing Europe and Italy are not home-grown. They are part of a global attack on labour

Riccardo Bellofiore

Riot police during a clash with anti-austerity protesters in Rome last week

Riot police during a clash with anti-austerity protesters in Rome last week. Photograph: Reuters

History repeats itself, Marx wrote, first as tragedy, then as farce. If you wonder how it might repeat itself the third time, look at Italy: a country where the most effective opposition to government are – literally – comedians, and where the prime minister himself is a joke. This has distorted most analysis of the country’s economical and political situation, as if Italy’s problem is just its PM, distracted by sex and trials.

To understand the true nature of the Italian crisis we need to look at it in a wider European context. The limits of the eurozone are well known: it has a “single currency” that isn’t backed by political sovereignty, a central bank that doesn’t act as lender of last resort or finance government borrowing, and no significant European public budget. The flaws of the ECB’s obsessive anti-inflationary stand, and its propensity to raise the interest rate whatever the cause of price rises, are also plain to see. And Germany’s tendency to profit from southern Europe’s deficit while simultaneously imposing austerity budgets on those countries pertains more to psychiatry than economics.

That said, the European crisis is not a home-grown one, the sovereign debt crisis is not truly a public debt crisis, and Italy’s crisis is not Italian-born. German neo-mercantilism induced stagnation in Europe, which survived thanks to US-driven exports. When “privatised Keynesianism” – mixing institutional funds, capital asset inflation and consumer debt (a model exported from the US and UK to Italy, Spain and Ireland among others) – exploded, European growth imploded.

Private debt crisis in disguse

The sovereign debt crisis is thus the private debt crisis in disguise. Deficits are not of the “good” kind (planned to produce use values, and self-dissolving through qualitative development), but of the “bad” kind (induced by real stagnation or saving finance).

The problem has been the unwillingness to refinance first Greece, then Ireland, then Portugal. Their share in the euro area public debt to GDP ratio is ridiculously low: cancelling the debt would have been less painful.

The crisis came because “markets” and rating agencies saw the stupidity of European leaders, who were ineffective when it came to rescuing indebted countries, and who introduced self-defeating austerity programmes. Fear produced a ballooning of the interest rate spread. The sharp decrease in the already very low Italian GDP growth rate (1.3% in 2010, 0.1% in the first quarter of 2011) and the dramatic rise in interest rates paved the way to Italy’s current nightmare.

Italy’s economy does have serious failings, but they are structural, long-standing ones. They date from the mid-1960s, and they resulted in the continuous decrease in both labour productivity and the growth rate. Capitalists answered workers’ struggles with a kind of investment strike – through the intensification of labour rather than innovation. Industrial sectors disappeared; technology was imported; public enterprises were privatised. Mid-sized Italian companies profited from international exports, but they were dependent on outside-generated growth. Public debt was a means to assist a de-industrialising economy.

 Fatal blow

The fatal blow came with the policies of flexibility (that is, casualisation) of labour, which led to a collapse of labour productivity. For a while, this led to full under-employment in the centre-north. The crisis is revealing the hidden truth, and the drama of Italian unemployment and further casualisation is only just beginning as the impact of increasing regressive taxes and savage cuts is felt.

Default plus exit from the euro will not help. In 1992, Italy left the European monetary system and witnessed a huge devaluation: the structural problems deepened, and workers’ conditions deteriorated. This time, Italy leaving the euro would mean the end of monetary union, and a dramatic broadening of the European and world crisis.

The crisis can be overcome only by dealing at once with the European crisis in order to stop the domino effect. One suggestion has come from Yanis Varoufakis and Stuart Holland: eurobonds not only as financial rescue but also as finance to a wave of investments.

However, this crisis is not just a financial crisis, but a capitalist crisis: it is part of an attack on labour. From this point of view, a New Deal should be part of a wider programme of the European left, who should push for a socialisation of investment, banks as public utilities, the intervention of the state as direct provider of employment, and capital controls.

It is not (yet) Marx. It is Hyman P Minsky. Unfortunately what’s really missing in Europe is not the money to finance debt; it is internationalism. Only European struggles can resist austerity and deliver decent reform.

Soros makes Forbes Top 10 rich list

SINGAPORE: Microsoft founder Bill Gates has retained his top spot on the Forbes 2011 ranking of the richest people in America with US$59bil.

The number two spot went to Warren Buffett with US$39bil and Larry Ellison (No. 3) with US$33bil.

George Soros (pic), in seventh spot, joins the Top 10 for the first time, with US$22bil, and is one of the 27 hedge fund managers – 7% of the Forbes 400 – featured in Hedged Fortunes.

George Soros

This year, entrepreneurs dominate the ranks, comprising an all-time high of 70% of the Forbes 400 members.

Enthusiasm for popular brands, like Starbucks and Forever 21, has helped boost some fortunes, while the spread of social media has sparked others.

The combined wealth of America’s richest is US$1.5 trillion, with an average net worth of US$3.8bil, reflecting a 12% uptick from 2010.

Wealth was up for 262 members of this year’s list, while 72 members saw a decline.

The Forbes 400 welcomed 18 new members in 2011 (Fresh faces), including Sean Parker (No. 200) who rocked the music industry with Napster and helped build Facebook (agent of disruption), John Henry (No. 375), majority owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC, Jeffrey Skoll (No. 139) whose Participant Media’s most recent release, “The Help”, has grossed nearly US$143mil to date and Forever 21’s Jin Sook & Do Won Chang (No. 88).

Every member of the Top 20 gained wealth this year, with the exception of Buffett, down US$6bil from 2010, the largest dollar amount loss of any 400 member.

The year’s biggest dollar gainer is Mark Zuckerberg (No. 14), who cracked the Top 20 with a gain of US$10.6bil.

Among the 42 women on the list are media mogul Oprah Winfrey (No. 139) newcomer Gayle Cook (No. 96) and Meg Whitman (No. 331). – Bernama

Job-seekers not so street-savvy these days; Top American graduates heading to India for employment!

Did you know famous Rod Stewart had football trials at Celtic and dug graves?

Monday Starters – By Soo Ewe Jin

DID you know that Rod Stewart had football trials at Celtic and worked as a grave digger before starting his music career by singing on the streets across Europe? Or that Michael Dell’s first job was as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant earning US$2 an hour?
Image representing Michael Dell as depicted in...Image via CrunchBase

What about your first job? There are many magazines, including Reader’s Digest, that have at one time or another, run a column simply entitled My First Job.

Of course, they only interview the famous personalities but I am sure even ordinary people like us have extraordinary first-job experiences to share.

Rajan Moses is well known in the journalistic fraternity but what he shared in The Star last Tuesday (The Star, where I cut my teeth, see below) contains an important lesson for all of us, especially the thousands of unemployed graduates out there.

Rajan was studying mass communications at Universiti Sains Malaysia when The Star came into existence. He wanted to be part of this racy new tabloid so he rode his motorcycle to the Weld Quay office to try his luck and see if he could get his break into journalism.

Rajan wrote how he managed to slip past the guard on duty and headed straight to the office of the legendary KS Choong, the founding editor of this newspaper. As he was talking to the secretary, Choong peered through the glass window from his desk and beckoned him in. He had a strict face, but was surprisingly kind and gentle.

“When I told him that I wanted to intern at the paper, he smiled and said yes. He gave me my first break and told me I could be The Star’s USM correspondent, and even said that I could work full time with the paper in Kuala Lumpur during my three-month varsity vacations,” Rajan wrote.

From that first break, Rajan went on to have an illustrious career not only in The Star but in other media organisations at home and abroad. He is currently with Ogilvy as a senior media adviser.

I find recollections like this very rare these days. There was a time when people would do all sorts of things to get a job, but these days, many of them expect the job to be handed to them on a silver platter.

I believe we were more street-savvy those days and we knew how to take the initiative. When I tell fresh graduates that they do not need to wait for advertisements to appear before they apply, they are not too convinced.

After finishing my Form 6, I decided to write in to all the newspapers to see if they would offer me a job.

The National Echo was the first to respond. The kind and gentle Choong at that time had moved to The Echo which had been revamped to be also a tabloid to challenge The Star. He brought along many of The Star’s pioneers with him.

At the interview, the first thing he said was, “So you are the fella who is always writing letters to the editor. I didn’t know you were still in school then. You had so many good comments on current issues. When can you start?”

So, for a princely sum of RM135, I started my journalism career as a cadet reporter.

For the next job I applied for, I was surprised I was even called for the interview because I thought I had flunked the pre-entry written test.

One section required us to explain the meaning of 20 rather bombastic words.

I didn’t know any, so I wrote, “If I had a dictionary with me, I could give you the meaning of these words. But if I have to use a dictionary to read a newspaper, then these words certainly don’t deserve to see print.”

There was still an hour to go, but I handed in my test paper and walked out of the hall. Call it bravado or whatever, but the editors appreciated my candour. I was interviewed and I got the job.

Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin wonders what young people do to get a job these days besides giving us those templated CVs that are strong on style but weak on substance.

The Star, where I cut my teeth

I WAS one of the pioneers who had the good fortune to work with The Star at Weld Quay in Penang soon after its birth. The Star was the launching pad for my eventual success as a seasoned journalist, correspondent, chief sub-editor and editor with the international news agency Reuters, the national news agency Bernama and the Business Times, spanning a period of over 32 years.

I believe I owe a care of duty to The Star and its founding editor K.S. Choong, who gave me my first break.

The launch of The Star in September 1971 had a great impact on Penangites who were so used to the existing newspaper fare that the arrival of something new perked them up. Finally, an alternative paper to read had arrived, and a racy tabloid at that!

Newspaper boys sold the first editions of the new paper late into the night on Penang’s streets, and The Star created quite a buzz.

It had a picture of a Page 3 girl daily (very much like what the The Sun and Daily Mirror did in London) and bright, bold and interesting human interest stories and pictures which sparked much local interest.

As an undergraduate at Universiti Sains Malaysia pursuing a Mass Communications degree, I was on the hunt for an internship to learn more about my passion – journalism. I saw in The Star my guide and mentor.

Plucking up courage one fateful day, I rode my motorcycle to the Weld Quay office to try my luck and see if I could get my break into journalism.

I had long hair then (which was the vogue among students), but managed to slip past the guard on duty and headed straight to the office of the Editor-in-Chief, K.S. Choong.

I told his secretary that I wanted to see him. Choong peered through the glass window from his desk and beckoned me in. He had a strict face, but was surprisingly kind and gentle.

When I told him that I wanted to intern at the paper, he smiled and said yes. He gave me my first break and told me I could be The Star’s USM correspondent, and even said that I could work full time with the paper in Kuala Lumpur during my three-month varsity vacations.

It was indeed an honour to be a Star reporter then. It opened many doors for me in Penang – people started recognising this rookie reporter – and with my enthusiasm bursting, I started seeing stories everywhere and in many things.

One of the biggest stories I ever broke as the USM correspondent was about how forged coupons were used by a syndicate at a major USM carnival, which resulted in the organisers losing thousands of ringgit.

The work – for which I was paid by the column inch (that is, the length of the story) – earned me about RM50-RM60 a month, good supplementary income for a poor student.

Then when the long university vacation came around mid-year, I was despatched as a reporter with The Star in KL where the paper at that time was circulating a few thousand copies. I was paid RM100 a month.

The KL office was then headed by bureau chief Maureen Hoo, who taught me a lot about writing news stories by re-writing my copy and who was generous enough to let me go out and pound the streets to find really rare and interesting stories.

There were five or six staff in the rather small KL office in a building in Jalan Silang in downtown KL. The Star was really small in KL.

Then we moved to the Jalan Travers office in Bangsar, where the circulation department, advertisement salesmen, and editorial department were all housed in one place for the first time in KL.

At that time, in 1972-73, The Star circulation was only a mere 8,000 copies, and we had to fight hard to get our KL stories in the Penang-centric edition of the newspaper.

Lady Luck poured her fortune on me when I got my first front page byline after witnessing a major fire at a rice/padi godown alongside the railway line near the Brickfields/Jalan Travers junction. Police estimated the fire had caused millions of ringgit in damage, quite a large sum at that time.

It was truly gratifying to see my name on the front-page story, and I remember showing it to my parents, relatives and friends. I think I still have a copy of it somewhere at home.

Soon after came another front-page byline from me in The Star when a tall and well-endowed Australian stripper I had interviewed in KL several weeks before was found walking around bald, naked and in a drug-induced daze along Batu Feringghi beach in Penang.

My experience as a reporter for the then under-dog newspaper was really exciting.

On one assigment, our photographer, the late Mok Yong, and I interviewed two sales representatives of the “Perfumes of the Orient” company at their stand in the Federal Hotel in KL. Soon after the article and photo came out, the local perfume company wrote to my editor and booked a whole year’s worth of advertisements in the paper.

I received a congratulatory letter from the boss because, as the under-dog newspaper then, it was tough getting advertising revenue.

Upon graduation from USM in 1974, I joined The Star full time as a journalist in Penang at the Pitt Street office. I remember I was paid RM125 a month, although I was a graduate, and given an increment of a mere RM15 a year.

It was not the money I was working for. My friends who had graduated along with me from USM were earning about RM650-RM800 a month in government service or as graduate trainees elswhere.

I chose to remain in The Star despite the low salary because of my passion for journalism, loyalty to the paper that gave me my first break, and the great company of senior journalists who taught me the ropes.

That was when I met former greats who believed in the cause and laid the foundations for The Star to become the great paper it is today.

I remember the valuable guidance and counselling from pioneer Star journalists and editors like K. Sugumaran, Charlie Chan, Mohanan Menon, R.D. Selva, Gobind Rudra, Tony Rangel, R. Pachymuthu, Khoo Kay Peng, Tony Chew, Alan Tan, Soon Boon Phin, S.P. Cheah, Robert Ang, Robert Kuan, Sri K. Nayagam, and a host of others.

In November 1975, having earned a solid base in journalism and becoming well honed in reporting news at The Star, I made the decision to leave Penang and return to Kuala Lumpur to work for Bernama as a news executive.

There was no looking back after that.

In 1983, I was head-hunted by Reuters to join the KL bureau. I went on to become the pioneer Malaysian journalist to be posted by an international news agency to the United States – Chicago and Washington DC, between 1987 and 1991.

After 20 successful years with Reuters as bureau chief in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, chief subeditor in Hong Kong and Singapore, I returned to KL and worked for the Business Times as executive editor for several years.

Today I work for Ogilvy, a PR and advertising agency, still keeping my links with journalists as senior media advisor.

When I look back at my early days in The Star, I feel a sense of warmth and gratitude.

My mind races back to the many things I learnt that gave me the foundation to become a journalist, of those who gave me great friendships and taught me the ropes and, of course, some of the funny, weird and interesting news situations that I encountered as a rookie.

Most of all I remember and thank the late founding editor, K.S. Choong, for giving me that first break.

RAJAN MOSES,Kuala Lumpur.

Top American graduates heading to India for employment

Breaking tradition, top American graduates are heading to India to find jobs and opportunity. Many believe that having experience in India is an important addition to their resume in this increasingly globalized world. Some say that its easier to find a good job in India than in the United States, as India’s economy is growing while the US economy is predicted to shrink within the next year.

China to Launch Space Station Test Module Next Week

China to Launch Space Station Test Module

by Clara Moskowitz, Senior Writer
China is developing its first full-fledged space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace). Early tests of China’s skills at rendezvous and docking, shown in this artist's illustration, are set to begin in 2011.
China is developing its first full-fledged space station, called Tiangong (Heavenly Palace). Early tests of China’s skills at rendezvous and docking, shown in this artist’s illustration, are set to begin in 2011.
CREDIT: China Manned Space Engineering Office

China will launch a test module for its first space station next week between Sept. 27 and Sept. 30, state media reported today (Sept. 20).

The unmanned module, called Tiangong-1 (which means “Heavenly Palace”) will test autonomous docking procedures and other space operations in preparation for China’s plan to build a 60-ton space station by the year 2020.

The Chinese Long March 2F rocket set to launch Tiangong-1 has already been rolled out to its launch platform at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province, according to state-run news service Xinhua. [Photos: China's First Space Station]

The liftoff was delayed last month when a Long March 2C booster, similar to the rocket that will loft Tiangong-1, failed to deliver an experimental unmanned satellite to orbit. However, after an investigation into the accident, China successfully launched a military satellite aboard a related Long March 3B/E rocket on Sunday (Sept. 18), clearing the way for the Tiangong liftoff.

Final tests of the spacecraft and its booster will take place over the next few days, a project spokesperson told Xinhua.

“Every main system is standing by and the final preparations are running smoothly,” Xinhua reported.

The 8.5-ton Tiangong-1 is slated to dock with the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft, which will launch at a later date. It will be the first docking between Chinese spacecraft, and will represent a significant step forward in the nation’s space capabilities, experts have said.

Medical and engineering experiments will also be carried aboard Tiangong-1. [How China's First Space Station Will Work (Infographic)]

China is only the third country, after the Soviet Union and the United States, to launch a person to orbit. The first Chinese manned mission, Shenzhou 5, launched astronaut Yang Liwei in 2003. Two more manned missions followed, including a flight that featured the nation’s first spacewalk in 2008.

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