2012, a new year’s field of wishes


A new year’s field of wishes

ON YOUR OWN by TAN THIAM HOCK

Jobless schizophrenic with 12 credit cards owes RM50,000


By AMANDA NG YANN CHWEN and KATHY CHIN newsdesk@thestar.com.my

KUALA LUMPUR: An unemployed schizophrenic has landed himself with a RM50,000 debt – no thanks to his 12 credit cards.

MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong said the man, known only as Y.F. Chong, 35, had approached him for help as he was afraid he would go to jail.

“Why was it so easy for him to get so many cards when his salary was only 1,500?” he asked reporters at a press conference at his office here yesterday.

Y.F., who used to work in a milling factory, said he would apply for every credit card offered to him by promoters at shopping centres and was approved for all of them.

He said that when he lost his job in October due to his condition, which was diagnosed in 2004, he started depending on his credit cards to get by.

“Previously, I used to pay for trips to spas and a holiday in Thailand with my credit cards,” he said, adding that he even took two supplementary cards for his mother and sister.

He said last year, the banks started demanding payment, adding that all his cards have now been cancelled.

“If I still had a job, I would pay off the debts by instalment, but I am jobless now,” said YF, who because of his condition, claims somebody is following him and poisoning his food.

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterised by a breakdown of thought processes and by poor emotional responsiveness. Symptoms include auditory hallucinations, paranoia or delusions,

He claimed that when he tried to file for bankruptcy, the Official Assignee office asked him to pay another RM1,500 for filing charges.

“I couldn’t as I didn’t have the money,” he said.

Chong expressed amazement that YF managed to get 12 credit cards.

He said he had tried to apply for a Gold Card more than 10 years ago, and was rejected.

“Why is it so easy to apply for credit cards now?” he asked.

Chong added that it was not surprising that so many young people in the country were in serious debt.

“There’s something really wrong with the current system,” he said, adding that banks should have a more thorough vetting process.

‘He is a good father’, man chained kids!


The man may have chained kids out of desperation

BUTTERWORTH: The man accused of shackling his children in a bathroom is not as cruel as he had been made out to be, according to his neighbours and police.

Breaking free: The chains on the girl’s leg being removed at the house in Jalan Raja Uda. — GARY CHEN / The Star

“Their relationship is very close.

“The children would give their father a goodbye kiss whenever he leaves the house,” said a neighbour, known only as Lee.

Lee said the man had been under much stress since his Thai wife left home about a month ago.

Another neighbour, who wished to be known only as Gan, said the father was a friendly man and he seldom scolded his children.

“I am not sure why he decided to chain the kids, but I guess he was at wit’s end on how to take care of them,” said Gan, who runs a plastics shop next to the double-storey shoplot in Taman Mawar on Jalan Raja Uda where the family stays.

The two children, aged two and six, had been chained inside the bathroom of their home on Wednesday.

Authorities broke into the place after being alerted by neighbours who heard them crying.

Their father has been detained while the children have been warded at the Seberang Jaya Hospital.

Gan said the children were usually left in the one-bedroom home on the first floor when the father went out to deliver goods to customers from 3pm to 10pm.

“He is very busy as he runs a shop on the ground floor while his children live upstairs,” he said.

Asked about the children’s behaviour, Gan said the two-year-old boy was naughty and had thrown toys and chairs out from the balcony.

Another neighbour, Soy, said that she would give the children some bread when she heard their cries.

Penang police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Wira Ayub Yaakob said the community must play its role and help the family instead of blaming the man for his action.

“We must not just look at the case from the criminal aspect.

“Obviously, he was under a lot of stress and he needs help and support from the community at this point,” he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Raymond Tan, the uncle of the two siblings, has stepped in to take temporary custody of the two children.

The North Seberang Prai district Welfare Department will apply for a court order to grant temporary custody to Tan, pending the outcome of investigations into the case.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said Tan had agreed to temporarily care for his nephew and niece, and they would live with his family at his home in Bayan Baru.

He said Tan told him that the children’s father had expressed remorse but explained that he had no choice as his son was hyperactive.

“Sometimes, the child would throw things around at his home and the father decided to chain him as he was afraid that his son might run out of the house,” said Phee, who visited them at the hospital.

Both the children were in good health.

Tan said his 40-year-old brother worked as a chemical supplier and that he was a caring man who loved his children.

“My brother has never done such a thing before and I was shocked over the incident.”

Tan said his Thai sister-in-law, who is said to be two months’ pregnant, had gone backto her hometown in Bangkok to visit her family.-  The Star

Kids home alone and chained

By M. SIVANANTHA SHARMA, KOW KWAN YEE and FONG KEE SOON north@thestar.com.my

BUTTERWORTH: Two children, aged two and six, were left home alone for hours and worse, they were chained in the bathroom.

Their father, a despatcher in his 40s, left them chained in their house in Jalan Raja Uda, apparently for “being naughty”.

The girl and her younger brother were left without food for about four hours before they were finally rescued on Wednesday.

Sorry state: The two-year-old chained near a toilet bowl in the bathroom of the house in Jalan Raja Uda.>>

North Seberang Prai OCPD Asst Comm Zulkifli Alias said neighbours who heard the children’s cries called a volunteer patrol team, who then alerted the police and Welfare Department.

“The authorities broke into the house through the front door and freed the children,” he said.

When met at the Seberang Jaya Hospital where they were admitted to, the six-year-old girl said: “I was scared and hungry so my brother and I began shouting for our father.”

When asked whether she or her brother was in pain, she said no.

The girl, however, seemed unable to answer when asked whether they had been chained previously.

She said there had been no visits from relatives since they were sent to the hospital.

ACP Zulkifli said the father claimed that the children were naughty, so he chained them and left them without food as punishment.

He also told police that his wife left home about a month ago.

Police picked up a man at a shophouse in Taman Mawar shortly after the children were rescued at about 8.40pm. He has been remanded for four days.

“Initial investigations revealed that the children were chained before he left for work at about 3pm,” ACP Zulkifli said at the district police headquarters in Bertam, Kepala Batas, yesterday.

A neighbour, who works as a mechanic, said he heard the crying while he was at his workshop, which was next to the shoplot near Jalan Raja Uda where the children live.

“I heard them crying at around 2pm on Wednesday. I did not think much of it as I thought the kids were just quarrelling,” said the neighbour who declined to be named.

“So I was shocked to see Rela members at the house around 8.45pm. I only realised the kids were chained when some of them showed me the photographs,” he said.

He said he often heard the children crying since his car workshop opened for business about a month ago.

A Chinese vernacular newspaper in its evening edition quoted the father as saying that he was forced to chain his children because they would dirty the house if they were left unattended.

Penang Health, Welfare, Caring Society and Environment Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the children would be placed under the custody of the Welfare Department for now.

Property developers – the real landlords!


Developers – the real landlords

Insight Down South By SEAH CHIANG NEE

As a group, exclusive and rich, property developers have always wielded strong influence in small cities with rich land banks in a scale that probably rivals the government – until now.

TRADITIONALLY, property developers in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong have enjoyed economic power far beyond their numbers.

We were politely reminded of this when Singapore’s developers told the government they were disappointed at not being consulted before it announced recent measures to cool the market.

This was tantamount to a right to be informed in advance of any policy or price affecting their interests.

The developers’ reaction stirred public ire, with people considering it an audacity its demand to be consulted over changes.

Yet there is a tradition behind the demand.

As a group, exclusive and rich, developers have always wielded strong influence in small cities with rich land banks in a scale that probably only rivals the government.

After all it controls the city’s most precious asset.

My first lesson of this fact of life came in the 1970s when I arrived to take up the post as news editor of The Hong Kong Standard. A colleague asked who I thought were the colony’s most powerful people.

“The chief editor of New China News Agency” I ventured, regurgitating what I had often read.

“No, my friend, not even the Chinese mainlanders, and not the colonials,” he exclaimed, “It is the Hong Kong real estate developers.”

Land auctions often decided how well – or poorly – the Hong Kong people were to live.

Property prices would affect billions in budgets and living standards, in other words, people’s lives.

When I returned to Singapore, I found a little of the same, the difference being we were an independent country and not led by a passive colonial Governor. In short, developers here were powerful!

Once land values were decided auctions, the developers controlled the ultimate prices and timing of the sales.  To a large extent, it meant controlling of supply and demand.

If the developers thought the asking prices were too high, they would abstain from bidding, making them a sort of a little “pressure group”.

When I returned here I discovered a bit of the same.

Developers collectively could – if they chose to – influence the way the media reported the property market because they were big advertisers.

The bigger the spenders, the greater the influence! They could ensure newspaper reports did not report too negatively on the market and scare away buyers.

Some were not reticent exercising it by making it clear to advertising managers that their money could best be used in a media that keep encouraging property buyers, or at least not to predict weak markets too strongly.

Others stayed away from the game.

Many years ago when I was chief editor of a newspaper here I had one such run-in with several Singapore developers, who were among my paper’s frequent advertisers.

It was at a time when dark economic clouds were gathering and our Business Desk was reporting that property markets were heading for a fall. The bad vibes were strong, and they were reflected in our coverage.

During lunch, one developer referred to how much his company had spent on advertising in our paper.

He added that he “sometimes considered it a waste of money to advertise in a newspaper which frequently talked down the market”.

If this continued, they might as well stop or cut down advertising in the paper, he said.

I was very concerned. I replied that as a newspaper editor, I feared two things most; the government withdrawing the newspaper licence and secondly, businessmen threatening to withhold advertising unless we cooperated with them.

“In either case, our survival will be threatened, and we will bring the fight to Page One and let readers judge!”

We finally struck a deal: No advertising boycotts. In return I would run an interview on record with a property tycoon who predicted his views that the market would rise in the following year.

I am relating this to record appreciation of the National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s stand not to bend to the developers’ will “by consulting” them about market “cooling-off” action or price movements.T.T Durai and Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan at...

That would have been tantamount to tipping them off in advance of price-sensitive measures, an act no government can do.

Analysts expect the recent measures to cool buying and bring down the home prices by between 15 to 30% over the next two years.

“There will be a sell-off in the next three-to-five months,” said a property agent.

By imposing stiff measures against foreigners’ speculative buying, including a 10% duty, Khaw has gained public acclaim.

“Khaw has my full support. His policy is good for the younger generation,” a Singaporean commented.

“If the young people feel that even with hard work they still cannot achieve their goal, Singapore is done for. That dream is to own a private property.”

Khaw has also succeeded in shortening the queue of new Singaporean graduates applying to own their first public flat.

Since becoming minister after the May election, Singapore’s once world-acclaimed public housing is slowly working to dispel public discontent over shortage and high prices.

Many more years are needed to clean up the mess. But for now, wrote Khaw – one of the more popular ministers: “We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

And instead of the usual brickbats, praises are starting to come in for fending off foreign speculators.

“I’m seeing the quality of Minister Khaw,” one surfer wrote.

Another said: “Thank you for the cooling measures. This shows Singapore is clean and NOT controlled by the (property) billionaires club.”

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SP Setia Boss Liew is Malaysian Ernst & Young … 

Why Americans Should Wait To Buy A House?


by Michael Sanibel

The U.S. government is doing its best to convince the American public that there’s an economic recovery underway, but is that really true? The economy is being artificially propped up by $1,500 billion in annual debt, and the Federal Reserve has printed trillions of dollars to keep banks afloat. It was too much debt that got the country into trouble to begin with, yet the government is essentially saying that even more debt is needed to fix the problem. This is one of the fundamental pillars of the theory developed by economist John Maynard Keynes in the early 1900s.

Not everyone agrees with Keynesian economic theory. Free market capitalists believe that markets should be unfettered by government intervention and allowed to reach equilibrium on their own. Their argument is that supply and demand should set asset values and prices without interference by artificial stimuli and freshly printed cash. (To learn more, read How To Buy Your First Home: A Step-By-Step Tutorial)

When analyzing whether or not to buy a house in this economic environment, the best approach is to focus on reality, not the talking points offered by politicians. Here are some factors to consider before taking the plunge with a new mortgage.

The Bubble
The housing bubble was caused by a lethal combination of easy credit, low interest rates and rampant speculation. This “perfect storm” reached its pinnacle of power in four states: California, Nevada, Florida and Arizona. The landscape of these states is littered with unfinished housing developments and empty condominiums. Even though prices have dropped 50% or more in some areas of these states, they are all plagued by debt-to-income ratios (DTI) that are still higher than the historical norm of three to one. This will continue to put downward pressure on prices.

Nationwide, the inventory of unsold homes was 3.33 million at the end of October 2011, an eight-month supply at the current sales rate. While this is a positive downtrend from the inventory peak of 4.58 million units in July 2008, the inventory overhang is still having a negative effect on prices. The median existing home pricewas $162,500 in October for all housing types nationwide, a drop of almost 5% from a year ago.

Prices are also being impacted by the high rate of contract failures, which is almost double that of September, and four times what it was one year ago. These failures represent canceled sales contracts resulting from unqualified mortgage applications, appraisal values below the sales price, unsatisfactory home inspections and unfulfilled contract contingencies. One-third of all sales contracts in October did not make it to closing, causing those homes to re-enter the market and increase the unsold inventory.

100-Year Trend
Yale economist Robert Shiller, known for the Case-Shiller price index, has calculated that U.S. home prices rose an average of 3.35% per year during the period 1900-2000. This timespan includes extended periods of both falling and rising prices, from the Great Depression up to the bull markets of the late 1980s and late 1990s. (For related reading, see Understanding The Case-Shiller Housing Index.)

In January 1998, just before the bubble started to inflate exponentially, the price index stood at 82.7. If prices had followed the 100-year trendline over the next 12 years, the index would have reached 126.7 in October 2010. Instead the index hit 159, a full 25% above the long-term trend. So, even though prices have already dropped more than 30% nationwide in the past five years, data suggests that the bubble has not been deflated and more price drops could be on the way.

Important Factors
There are many forces at work contributing to instability in home prices:

  • Continued high unemployment, with weekly unemployment claims consistently hovering around 400,000
  • The possibility of higher interest rates to combat inflation fueled by the increased money supply
  • Strategic defaults, foreclosures and short sales all force prices lower
  • High levels of underwater mortgages
  • A “shadow” inventory of unsold homes held by banks will put pressure on prices when these homes are marketed
  • Stricter mortgage qualification requirements, including bigger down payments, higher credit scores and verifiable income
  • Lower conforming loan limits as of Oct. 1, 2011
  • Continued high levels of government and personal debt
  • The threat of more U.S. credit rating downgrades
  • The potential for a European financial collapse rippling through the U.S. economy and financial institutions
  • Changing demographics, slowing population growth and smaller families are causing reductions in overall demand
  • Many baby boomers are downsizing their lives, including the size of their homes
  • Possible future actions by the government between now and the 2012 elections: tax policy changes, stimulus spending, mortgage modification programs, etc.

The Bottom line
The evidence suggests that without government intervention, home prices would be much lower than they are now. Record low interest rates, the homebuyer tax credit, mortgage assistance programs and bailouts for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have all softened the freefall in prices. These actions have not changed the fundamentals of a weak economy that relies heavily on consumption for GDP growth and too little on industrial production.

Price stability is not likely to be reached until the excess is wrung out of the bubble that expanded by a breathtaking 19.2% per year between 1998 and 2006. Government policies have slowed the correction, but not stopped it. This has kept wary buyers out of the market because they don’t believe the market has hit a true bottom. This has delayed a sustainable housing recovery and prompted potential buyers to wait for lower prices next year. (To learn more, check out The Truth About Real Estate Prices.)

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The secret to getting rich in 2012: Open APIs


What is an API according to Heidi

Developers need to know the right lingo

By Matt Asay

Open … and Shut If the last decade was all about open source, the next decade will be about open APIs. However, as with open source, APIs aren’t necessarily a guarantee of billions in the bank. They’re simply the ante for playing the technology game at scale. That scale will be determined by who gives developers the best access to data, and that access is a function of open APIs.

Yes, developers. Politicians may focus on ways to get consumers to spend more money in an effort to rebuild their economies, but the world’s economies are increasingly founded upon software services, services that are developed and consumed by developers. These developers are, then, “the new kingmakers,” and not simply of some random technology company. They are behind the rise or fall of 21st Century news (Twitter), communication (Facebook), and more (Salesforce, Google, etc).

To thrive, these developers need APIs. Lots of them, though standardized and well-documented.

Redmonk analyst Stephen O’Grady hints at this in a recent post that discusses ways to unleash the “age of data”, by describing legal handicaps placed on Redmonk’s efforts to get at analytics data through an open API. Cut off the API through whatever means, and you’ve cut off a developer’s ability to not only grow her service, but also yours.

Given the importance of APIs, it’s surprising just how hard it can be to release them. Dan Woods calls this out, reporting on research he and others had done on APIs: “API programs [are often] started in secret, nurtured by the true believers in a clandestine way, slipped into production, and then brought to the awareness of senior management after the API was shown to be a success.” Developers, in other words, are having to secretly succeed for their business.

This is silly, if for no other reason than one of the great benefits of APIs is how much they can help with the integration of internal software services. That is, software that runs behind the firewall. Indeed, O’Reilly’s Anant Jhingran argues that for all the positive noise made about public APIs at Twitter and Facebook, the “real revolution” is that “enterprises of all sizes are API-enabling their back-end systems”. This makes the enterprise permeable to partners but also to its own employees, and is the number one reason enterprises are adopting APIs.

APIs are the key to making internal integration easy.

At one time we looked to open source to fill this function. Companies like CollabNet sprung up to enable internal software collaboration. But it turns out that APIs prove to be an easier way to achieve similar goals. Instead of having to learn an entire code base, I just need a well-documented API to get access to software services. Minimal fuss, maximum productivity.

This may be the point in APIs: to give developers a way to focus on services provided by software, and not the software itself. This shift from open-source software to open APIs becomes ever more critical as we move to cloud services, where developers can no longer access the underlying software. As the industry moves from software to Infrastructure as a Service to Platform as a Service, APIs are the key to the shift, as analyst Krishnan Subramanian details.

But not just any APIs. The industry can’t stomach a million competing APIs any more than it could digest a huge array of open-source projects for CMS, ERP, etc. We need APIs, but we also need standardization.

Take OpenStack, for example. OpenStack has taken on the daunting task of unseating Amazon Web Services, but it has made its life dramatically more difficult by trying to move the industry away from Amazon’s APIs. For better or for worse, the AWS APIs are the public standard and, as Canonical and Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth posits, “The hackers and funders and leaders and advocates of OpenStack, and any number of other cloud infrastructure projects both open source and proprietary, would be better off figuring out how to leverage [the AWS API] standardisation than trying to compete with it, simply because no other API is likely to gain the sort of ecosystem we see around AWS today.”

Shuttleworth is right about OpenStack, and about the larger industry. It’s better to rally around a common API, much as we rallied around Linux. In the case of cloud computing, cloud expert and former Googler Sam Johnston thinks the future is OpenCloud, and other industry observers have their own preferred horses in the various races.

But at the heart of each is APIs. Open APIs are the new open source, except they require less geeky access to lines of code, and more programmatic interaction with software services. As an added bonus, open APIs don’t come with the baggage of licensing fundamentalists. Praise the heavens! ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analyzing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco’s general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open…and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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