Sister slaps Rempit girl


By WINNIE YEOH
winnie@thestar.com.my

GEORGE TOWN: A 16-year-old schoolgirl was slapped several times by her elder sister at the state police contingent headquarters here for being involved in illegal motorcycle racing.

The girl was among 112 Mat Rempit and pillion riders aged between 13 and 26 who were detained in an operation at Jalan Bukit Gambier in Gelugor from midnight till 3am.

Policemen and reporters were stunned when the elder sister, in her 20s, slapped her younger sister in front of onlookers at about 10.30am.

“You janji you akan bertukar! (you promised you’ll turn over a new leaf),” the sister was heard rebuking the girl.

The angry older sister slapping her sibling at the police headquarters in Penang Saturday.

Later, when the girl tried to salam (greet) her sister, the latter was heard shouting “jangan sentuh aku!” (don’t touch me!).

Earlier, the sister and her mother had pleaded with state public order and traffic chief Supt Wan Aziz Wan Husin to release the younger girl, who was a pillion rider.

She was also heard telling police that the younger girl had played truant from school.

The police also made the group push their machines for about 15km from Jalan Bukit Gambier to the headquarters at Jalan Penang.

The journey started at 4.30am and they took about three and a half hours to reach their destination.

The bikers being escorted by policemen on their 15km walk.

The motorcyclists were allowed to rest briefly after every 2km. Many were seen huffing and puffing and were also drenched in sweat.

Supt Wan Aziz said 74 summonses were issued to the 73 Mat Rempit for various offences.

“We carried out urine tests but none of them tested positive. We will issue letters to their parents informing them of their children’s racing activities,” he said.

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Advance Could Change Modern Electronics


Science News

This image of an asymmetric MIM diode reflects a major advance in materials science that could lead to less costly and higher speed electronic products. (Credit: Image courtesy of Oregon State University)

ScienceDaily (Oct. 31, 2010) — Researchers at Oregon State University have solved a quest in fundamental material science that has eluded scientists since the 1960s, and could form the basis of a new approach to electronics.


The discovery, just reported online in the professional journal Advanced Materials, outlines the creation for the first time of a high-performance “metal-insulator-metal” diode.

“Researchers have been trying to do this for decades, until now without success,” said Douglas Keszler, a distinguished professor of chemistry at OSU. “Diodes made previously with other approaches always had poor yield and performance.

“This is a fundamental change in the way you could produce electronic products, at high speed on a huge scale at very low cost, even less than with conventional methods,” Keszler said. “It’s a basic way to eliminate the current speed limitations of electrons that have to move through materials.”

A patent has been applied for on the new technology, university officials say. New companies, industries and high-tech jobs may ultimately emerge from this advance, they say.

The research was done in the Center for Green Materials Chemistry, and has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Laboratory and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute.

Conventional electronics made with silicon-based materials work with transistors that help control the flow of electrons. Although fast and comparatively inexpensive, this approach is still limited by the speed with which electrons can move through these materials. And with the advent of ever-faster computers and more sophisticated products such as liquid crystal displays, current technologies are nearing the limit of what they can do, experts say.

By contrast, a metal-insulator-metal, or MIM diode can be used to perform some of the same functions, but in a fundamentally different way. In this system, the device is like a sandwich, with the insulator in the middle and two layers of metal above and below it. In order to function, the electron doesn’t so much move through the materials as it “tunnels” through the insulator — almost instantaneously appearing on the other side.

“When they first started to develop more sophisticated materials for the display industry, they knew this type of MIM diode was what they needed, but they couldn’t make it work,” Keszler said. “Now we can, and it could probably be used with a range of metals that are inexpensive and easily available, like copper, nickel or aluminum. It’s also much simpler, less costly and easier to fabricate.”

The findings were made by researchers in the OSU Department of Chemistry; School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; and School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.

In the new study, the OSU scientists and engineers describe use of an “amorphous metal contact” as a technology that solves problems that previously plagued MIM diodes. The OSU diodes were made at relatively low temperatures with techniques that would lend themselves to manufacture of devices on a variety of substrates over large areas.

OSU researchers have been leaders in a number of important material science advances in recent years, including the field of transparent electronics. University scientists will do some initial work with the new technology in electronic displays, but many applications are possible, they say.

High speed computers and electronics that don’t depend on transistors are possibilities. Also on the horizon are “energy harvesting” technologies such as the nighttime capture of re-radiated solar energy, a way to produce energy from the Earth as it cools during the night.

“For a long time, everyone has wanted something that takes us beyond silicon,” Keszler said. “This could be a way to simply print electronics on a huge size scale even less expensively than we can now. And when the products begin to emerge the increase in speed of operation could be enormous.”


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The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Oregon State University.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. William Cowell, Nasir Alimardani, Christopher C. Knutson, John F. Conley, Douglas A. Keszler, Brady J. Gibbons, John F. Wager. Advancing MIM Electronics: Amorphous Metal Electrodes. Advanced Materials, 2010; DOI: 10.1002/adma.201002678
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How to make CCTV hear as well as see?


New CCTV technology senses aggression from sound

By Dave Lee BBC World Service

CCTV cameras near the O2 Arena, London
Special software knows if certain loud noises pose a threat to security

On CCTV, no-one can hear you scream.

But technology from a UK company now means cameras can tell if you’re being aggressive or calling for help – and will alert security guards straight away.

Cambridge firm Audio Analytic has produced software which it said can analyse the pitch, tone and intonation of noises and work out if they pose a threat.

“A lot of incidents just can’t be picked up by video only systems,” said Chris Mitchell, Audio Analytic’s boss, on BBC World Service’s Digital Planet.

Listen to the full story on Digital Planet

“For example in a hospital where somebody, or a nurse, is being threatened early hours in the morning – that’s a very difficult thing for CCTV guards who monitor hundreds of channels worth of video signals on 20 screens or so to pick up.”

The software goes beyond simply placing microphones onto cameras and listening in. By feeding hundreds of sample sounds into the system, the software can distinguish different threats from various sounds – and not just based on volume.

“We don’t work with volume at all in the system because it’s so related to how far somebody is from the microphone that it’s not a useful metric.

“Our system picks out the most salient characteristics. These are things related to pitch, tone, intonation.”

Coffee fury

Essentially, Mr Mitchell explained, the software contains hundreds of audio fingerprints, and as soon as a sound resembles a stored sample, the alarm is raised.

However, like any software early in its development, it does not always get it exactly right.

“At a test site we did, someone got annoyed at the coffee cup machine because it swallowed their coffee cup money.

“From our point of view that’s a true positive – we really detected them getting genuinely aggressive at a coffee cup machine – but from the security point of view, it’s not a genuine detection.”

These mishaps aside, the Mr Mitchell’s team is confident the technology is ready to get out into the market.

“The false positive rates you get out of a system like ours are very low.

“Now, in security systems like a smoke detector we might have in our house, we know it has false positives – it goes off when you burn the toast.

“A certain number of false positives are beneficial so long as you have the security bandwidth to cope with them because you’d rather know about things that you think were an incident than just miss things you failed to be alerted to.”

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LCD TV companies see falling prices as demand down


By JESSICA MINTZ , AP Technology Writer

Companies that make huge flat-screen televisions and their LCD panel components are alerting investors that demand is dropping in the U.S. and other developed markets.

The forecasts trickled out as Asian reported earnings for the most recent fiscal quarter.

On Thursday, . of Japan slashed its earnings forecast for the fiscal year, which ends in March, saying it had to adjust its production of LCD panels in the most recent quarter to respond to a sharp decline in demand for the large-size panels.

Also Thursday, South Korea’s LG Electronics Inc. said strong sales of , particularly in emerging markets, helped push its home entertainment segment revenue up 9 percent – but its operating income sank by about 52 percent. The company said it expects price erosion in its TV business will eat into earnings in the fourth quarter.

Corp. of Japan reported Friday that LCD TV prices fell in the quarter that ended in September. The company cut its operating income forecast for the segment that sells the flat-screen televisions, citing deterioration in the North American market.

South Korea-based Co. said Friday it also expects prices for LCD panels to decline.

That meshes with a recent report from iSuppli Corp., which tracks shipments of LCD panels and flat-screen televisions. The research group reported that the number of LCD panels for TVs shipped in the April-June quarter outstripped the number of TVs that were shipped; LCD panel buyers cut orders in July, iSuppli said, making the glut even worse and pushing prices for LCD TVs down in the early fall.

©2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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LCD/Plasma Display Mounts – Ergonomic Mounting Systems for LCD/ Plsama Displays!-Singapore Supplier – www.ergonofit.com

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Space Tourism’s Rubbery Rockets May Spur Climate Change


Suborbital spaceflights that rely on rubber-based rocket fuel could shrink icecaps, alter the ozone layer and affect global temperatures, according to a new study.

Yet the study authors’ assumptions about the number of rocket launches per year and the chemistry of rocket exhaust have raised questions about their conclusions among space-tourism companies and climatologists not involved in the study.

Atmospheric scientists who performed the research probed the effects of belching ultrafine soot high into the stratosphere, where — unlike the troposphere below it — there isn’t rain and wind to quickly filter soot out of the air. Rubber-based rocket fuel burned with nitrous oxide is the preferred propellant of the burgeoning space-tourism industry, and chemists suspect such hybrid engines emit sooty black carbon. Closer to Earth, the stuff has been shown to soak up extra radiation from the sun and contribute to climate change.

“This study was a natural extension of the climate-research community gaining a greater and greater appreciation of black carbon in terms of global radiative forcing,” said Martin Ross, an atmospheric scientist at The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California, and leader of the research funded in part by his employer. “Soot is a very large issue in the troposphere,” Ross said, but its behavior isn’t well-understood at higher altitudes.

To model the effects of space tourist launches on the Earth’s atmosphere, Ross and his colleagues used the open-source Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model Version 3, or WACCM3, one of the most-advanced computer models available to study impacts to global climate.

They ran two supercomputer-powered simulations for two weeks, one as a control and another modeling the impact of 1,000 suborbital flights per year for the next four decades. That many flights, according to the study, would annually deposit more than 1.3 million pounds of soot into the stratosphere.

“We looked at the stated business plans from corporations that are planning to build vehicles for space tourism,” Ross said. “If you go to their websites, they’ll say things like, ‘we plan to launch once per day.’ We found 1,000 per year is well within stated objectives of the industry.”

On average, according to the simulation, the soot pushed polar ocean temperatures up by 1.8 Fahrenheit degrees, melted 5 to 15 percent of sea ice and depleted 1 percent of tropical ozone (while boosting polar ozone by 6 percent).

“We’re not making any particular prediction about any system, just taking reasonable guesses at what soot from a hybrid rocket engine looks like and what the launch industry will do in the future,” Ross said. “When we put that into a gold-standard model, the effect on the Earth is surprisingly large. In short, we think black-particle carbon from rockets is something that deserves attention.”

Their assumptions may not be perfect, said Gerald North, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M University who was not involved in the study, but the measured effect is significant enough to warrant further investigation.

While they make assumptions about some unknowns, such as the behavior of soot at high altitudes, North said, “they’re careful in expressing this is not the last word” and are “inviting others to take a look.”

Ross and Michael Mills, an atmospheric chemist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and a co-author of the study, said that’s precisely what the research team sees as the next step. In particular, getting a handle on what’s in the emissions of different types of rocket plumes.

“There are few direct high-altitude measurements of rocket plumes. We really need to get aircraft in those and get measurements of soot and other particles,” Mills said. “Until then, the sophistication of our models is limited.”

To do just that, Ross said The Aerospace Corporation is planning a workshop to bring together under one tent all the stakeholders in science, rocket engineering, space-tourism companies and the government agencies.

“We need to get these players together and exchanging ideas, then ask the policy people to figure out what to do, if anything, with the information,” Ross said.

“I think we and others in the industry welcome the opportunity to talk about all of these issues,” said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, a space-tourism company that’s planning to use hybrid rocket engines. Whitesides wasn’t without reservations about the study and its conclusions, however.

“Frankly, I have to admit I wished they talked to us before putting out a paper, but that’s OK. Climate issues are deeply important to Virgin, and we take them very seriously,” Whitesides said.

Part of the reason the company chose the hybrid rocket design for its SpaceShipTwo was “because of its significantly lower environmental impact than other designs.” Whitesides also said 1,000 space tourist launches per year is “guesswork,” because the industry is privatized and young.

“I think as we look at this more, we’ll find the impact will be far smaller than that set out in the paper,” he said. “In any case, I welcome the conversation.”

Whether or not peaceable collaborations ensue, both Ross and Mills expressed that carbon soot is something the nascent space tourism industry can’t ignore.

“This shows that a new kind and level of emission being deposited directly into the stratosphere could have a significant effect,” Mills said. “Companies need to proceed with developing their systems with full knowledge of consequences on the planet.”

Images: 1) Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (center) attached to WhiteKnightTwo. Flickr/Jeff Foust. 2) The average predicted changes after one decade in the ozone layer (top) and regional temperatures (bottom) caused by 1,000 hybrid rocket launches per year for 40 years. Ross et al. 3) Average seasonal soot deposition, in grams per square meter, in the stratosphere predicted by Ross et al.’s simulation. Ross et al.

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A campaign to educate credit card issuers & users


Users are not the only ones who should be responsible about credit cards – issuers must be too

A QUESTION OF BUSINESS By P. GUNASEGARAM  p.guna@thestar.com.my

IT is interesting to note that the National Cards Group – a grouping of Malaysian credit card issuers, mainly banks – has launched a campaign to inculcate responsible credit card usage among consumers.

They have called the campaign Swipe Smart with 6E, 6E being the so-called six enablers – educate yourself, exercise caution, enhance your lifestyle, enjoy the benefits, eliminate debt and engage with your card issuer.

Well and good. One should not pour cold water on such a noble deed by the card issuers to ensure that their customers are educated and know how to use the card responsibly without getting themselves – and in the longer run the issuers – into trouble.

It was good to see too that there were representatives from Bank Negara, the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca), the Association of Banks and others there.

The only thing that was lacking was a similar campaign for card issuers, yes, you read right, the card issuers. You see, the credit card problem is a double-edged sword – both the behaviour of issuers and users contributes to delinquency. Eventually, if things really get bad, both sides will suffer – the users may become bankrupt and the banks may be saddled by high bad debts.

Both parties have to be responsible and there has to be a balance of profit with responsibility. There is a need to educate the card issuers too to, using the words of the National Cards Group but applied to itself this time, to inculcate responsible credit card issuance among card issuers.

We will even call the campaign by the same name – Swipe Smart with 6E – with its own six enablers. We hope, Fomca, who was present there, will take the cudgels up on behalf of the consumers, call the issuers and launch this campaign.

Here is our proposed 6E campaign directed at card issuers:

1. Eliminate profiteering such as late payment charges. We have written about this before. The effective interest rates on this are extortionate and exorbitant. If you are late by one day on an outstanding balance of RM100 (even if your credit limit is RM100,000!) the charge is RM50. That’s 50% a day or 18,250% a year! Now what entitles the bank or issuer to charge you such an interest rate when your credit limit is RM100,000 and you have an unutilised portion of this of RM99,900? If that is not profiteering, what is?

2. Ease up on your interest rates. Most of us pay 18% a year on balances outstanding when the fixed deposit rate is not even nudging 3%. They take your money at 3% or less, then lend it back to you for 18%! Housing loans are at 6%, why is the credit card interest rate three times that at 18%, a rate that only licensed money lenders charge?

3. Exercise restraint in your marketing. These days, have one credit card and other issuers deluge you with cards and offers. Sometimes they send a card to you that you don’t want and then three months later bill you for service charges! Then I have to call them – it takes ages to get through with a robot asking you whether you want to do this or that before you finally get through – and demand they withdraw their statement. And then they offer credit cards to all manner of people who don’t know how to use them or abuse the credit lines, so long as they have a regular salary – civil servants are great targets. And because they have a salary, the banks can get their money back – with huge penalties to boot.

4. Engage with your customer. Before they send us all that unwanted promotional material, the issuers should ask us if we want them. They should remind us – constantly – that outstanding balances cost us 18% a year, the highest rate of any bank facility, and if I am not mistaken, the highest possible legal lending rate.

5. Educate yourself on social and ethical responsibilities. Yes, we know profits are all important and yes we know there are a lot of ignorant people out there from whom money can be made. But don’t financial institutions have a social and financial responsibility to their customers, especially people, and to inform them fully of how they make money from them? If issuers want to educate the public on the dangers of credit cards, they should educate themselves on immoral behaviour and how the drive to profit stops them from truly educating the general public.

6. Explain all your charges and actions fully. I have not yet found an issuer who advertises that the penalty charge for late payment is as high as nearly 20,000% a year. Perhaps they should print this on the envelopes they mail to customers. And how many people know that many credit cards issuers impose a service charge on overseas spending, have unfavourable exchange rates for transactions, and have service fees for interest-free instalment payments? Can they tell us why they are not pushing debit cards (no interest here, the funds are transferred directly from your bank account) equally hard? The list goes on. It is time, if the issuers wanted to educate the public, for them to take huge full-page advertisements to fully disclose all their charges in the simplest possible language. If they can’t find anybody to write the copy for them in simple language, I volunteer to do it for free.

Well, that’s our 6E Campaign aimed at educating our banks and other card issuers in brief. We hope somewhere out there some consumer organisation will take up this case and that the authorities will sit up and take notice and realise that issuers too contribute to the credit card problem.

Managing editor P Gunasegaram notes with some trepidation the following figures for credit card usage in Malaysia: there are 9 million cards and the average transaction through cards is RM211mil a day or RM77bil a year. That’s a lot of potential for some to make a lot of money and a lot of others to lose some.

Other related stories:
Importance of keeping a good credit record
Having a reasonable amount of debt is generally okay

Saturday November 6, 2010

Comments by A wary reader

Of educating credit card issuers and users

P. Gunasegaram’s article entitled “A campaign to educate credit card issuers” is interesting.But another important interest charge also needs to be highlighted. Do you know that if you do not make full payment on or before the due date, you lose the 20 days credit free period for both the current and new transactions posted on the statement?

In addition to the RM50 late payment charge, the finance charge is even higher.

For example: You receive the September statement on Oct 5 and the outstanding charge is RM1,200 and you need to settle it by Oct 20.

Say for some reason or the other, you overlook the matter and do not settle the outstanding in full by Oct 20. How much is your finance charge?

Let’s assume you settle the full outstanding of RM1,200 on Nov 5. You’d expect the bank to charge a finance charge of 17.5% pa based on daily calculation from Oct 20 to Nov 5, right?

Wrong. The bank will compute the interest outstanding from the transactions posted date till Nov 5.

In addition, all the new transactions will also attract interest charge. In short, the bank is penalising you twice on the old and new transactions.

If you do not settle the outstanding in full before due date, you lose the 20 days interest free period.

As such, the campaign should also educate the public to settle the full outstanding amount by due date. Banks, of course, will not highlight this point to the public. It’s one of their main revenue streams.

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Rejuvenating George Town, Penang


Three sound recommendations for Penang to break out of the middle income trap

THINK ASIAN By ANDREW SHENG

EVERY time I open my window, I see paradise – not heaven, but a neon sign for Paradise hotel in Penang island or more precisely, George Town, Pulau Pinang.

Situated at the entrance to the Malacca Straits, directly opposite Kedah Peak, the city was founded by Sir Francis Light in 1786 as the first English bridgehead to East Asia.

Since then, George Town has been a melting pot for Armenians, Arabs, Malays, Indians, Chinese and European travellers passing through the Far East.

At its height at the end of the 19th century, the city boasted the earliest bank branches in the country with key trading ties to Sumatra, Burma, Southern Thailand and Northern Malaya.

Like people and countries, cities have their ups and downs. When I first set eyes on Penang, my first impression was green rice-fields from the airport to a tree-lined city with a lovely, relaxed colonial feel.

George Town boasted the oldest and arguably best schools in the Far East. After duty-free status was removed and Sumatra and Southern Thailand went through a period of relative decline, the Penang economy had to reinvent itself, initially with the electronics industry.

But by the turn of the 21st century, even the electronics industry felt under threat as Penang talent left for richer shores.

What should Penang do?

A recent joint study by the World Bank and Khazanah Nasional Bhd brings forth a timely and well-researched book, “Cities, People and the Economy – a study on Positioning Penang” to discuss how Penang can escape the middle income trap.

Drawing on empirical studies by a team of internationally-renowned researchers, the book examines how the State of Penang needs to re-invent itself.

Having been successful in becoming industrialised through cheap labour, subsidised infrastructure and available land for low-tech manufacturing, Penang must now focus on developing industries which bring new competitiveness against the growing giants of India and China and other middle-income countries that are eating into Penang’s traditional strengths.

The editors of the book comprise three eminent economists who are clearly concerned about the need for Penang to reinvent itself.

Homi Kharas was formerly the chief economist for East Asia for the World Bank and currently at the Brookings Institution and a member of the National Economic Advisory Council.

Dr Albert Zeufack is a Cameroon national, formerly with the World Bank and currently working for Khazanah. Hamdan Majeed is the energetic head of the Penang office of Khazanah and deeply committed to Penang’s revival.

The central thesis of the book is that the three elements of Penang’s growth – its cities, people and economy – are not developing in tandem and that their cycles of development must be synchronised to turn Penang around.

Fortunately, following George Town’s world heritage designation, the urban cycle is starting to enter a recovery phase. But the challenge is that the people cycle is still in a deficit phase, with new graduates choosing to leave the area, while the economy is caught in a slump.

The authors carefully argue that a new development strategy must be articulated that can guide Penang to better wages, jobs and prospects for the next generation.

Penang must move from the old “sweatshop” assembly model to become a “smartshop” for sustainable products. Restoring lustre to the “Pearl of the Orient” does not have a simple engineering fix.

Instead, Penang must do different things and do them differently. Given its strong track record of economic success, Penang must set a new multidimensional agenda to become the most vibrant economic hub for its economic geographic advantages – the northern Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra, Southern Thailand and through good air and telecommunications, South, North and Southeast Asia.

Given its strong base of human talent, with affinity for community harmony and creativity, particularly in the culinary and service area, Penang offers the best opportunity to break out through innovation and change.

The book offers three sound recommendations to break out of the middle income trap. The first is to exploit economies of scale through specialisation, focusing on a few products where it is possible to achieve global excellence.

The six focus areas identified are technology-based manufacturing, biotechnology/life sciences, business process outsourcing (BPO), logistics, tourism and agribusiness.

Secondly, Penang must build density on the basis of an integrated land use plan while also ensuring efficient connectivity with the capital city.

Thirdly, Penang needs to increase its “liveability” factor, which is the key factor determining competition for top global talent.

Underlying the strategic concept is the premise on what the Government can do to facilitate sustained development in a middle income region.

Penang’s experience will provide valuable lessons for other states in Malaysia. What makes this book valuable is that it offers a development strategy that can be applied not just for Penang but also Malaysia as a whole.

It recognises that a city (and a nation) has to understand its place in the global economy and in regional supply chains.

Penang, and by extension Malaysia, can become an advanced economy by 2020 if it becomes globally connected, regionally oriented and locally centred.

But it can only do so if all parts of the nation, city and rural areas work together through efficient connectivity. What comes through the book is that Penang’s development is not a stand-alone objective.

Put simply, Malaysia’s targets of the New Economic Model cannot be achieved without successful development in Penang. Greater density of economic activity in the Northern Corridor will benefit all states and accelerate the reduction of poverty in Malaysia.

Thus, if the Northern Corridor can escape the middle income trap, then, so can Malaysia. This is a timely and relevant book as it comes out at the same time as the 10th Malaysia Plan.

The book will be useful for policy makers and those interested in the rejuvenation of cities as engines of economic development. It will also help interested citizens to understand how cities can change. George Town has always been a jewel in the Orient, which is why I live here.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng is adjunct professor at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, and Tsinghua University, Beijing. He has served in key positions at Bank Negara, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, and is currently a member of Malaysia’s National Economic Advisory Council. He is the author of the bookFrom Asian to Global Financial Crisis”.

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Rare earths


China vows not to use rare earths as leverage

A stalk of wild grass grows off soil from an old site of a rare earth metals mine on the outskirts of Longnan county, in Jiangxi Province October 27, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee

A stalk of wild grass grows off soil from an old site of a rare earth metals mine on the outskirts of Longnan county, in Jiangxi Province October 27, 2010.

By Aileen Wang and Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Thursday it will not use its dominance of supplies of rare earths as a bargaining tool with foreign economies, and the United States said it hoped trade in the high-tech ores would continue as normal.

China has slashed export quotas and reduced shipments to Japan, igniting international concern that it could use rare earth exports as an economic or political lever. Prices have spiked and mining firms are rushing to develop sources of the minerals outside China.

The U.S. and European Union this week said they were pressing for solutions to fears that China was choking supply of the substances used in lasers, computers and superconductors, among other applications, and the issue is expected to figure at next month’s G-20 summit.

Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology spokesman Zhu Hongren said Beijing sought international cooperation.

“China will not use rare earths as an instrument for bargaining,” he told a news conference on Thursday. “Instead, we hope to cooperate with other countries in the use of rare earths on the basis of win-win outcomes and jointly protecting this unrenewable resource.”

The ministry is one of several in China that oversee rare earths.

Zhu was speaking on the same day a newspaper published by China’s Ministry of Commerce urged China to resist pressure to allow foreign firms more access to its rare earths.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was unaware of China’s vow not to use them as a bargaining chip, and, speaking in Hawaii, said she would welcome any clarification of China’s stance on the minerals.

“I … hope that it means trade and commerce around these important materials will continue unabated and without any interference,” Clinton told a news conference with Japan’s foreign minister.

“At the same time, because of the importance of these rare earth minerals, I think both the minister and I are aware that our countries and others will have to look for additional sources of supply,” she said.

One engineering firm, Japan’s Nidec, has already said it will start making motors that do not use rare earths to lessen reliance on the minerals.

China supplies about 97 percent of the world’s demand for rare earth metals, which possess magnetic, luminescent and other properties used in emerging clean energy technologies, computers and electronics.

Prices of some rare earths on world markets have increased tenfold this year, reversing a long-trend toward lower prices caused largely by greater Chinese production over the past two decades.

In response to higher prices and worries among major consumers such as Japanese hi-tech industries that they will be unable to rely on large scale deliveries from China, mining firms are scrambling to speed up mine development timetables.

Shares in potential producers of the minerals outside China, such as Molycorp and Lynas Corp have rocketed since July, when China said it was reducing exports by 72 percent in the second half of the year.

Australian firm Arafura Resources on Thursday raised A$90 million ($87.5 million) to develop a rare earths project, but some analysts have said the long-term investment case for the minerals may be weak, and the market has the makings of a bubble.

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Energy

Can the U.S. Rare-Earth Industry Rebound?

  • Friday, October 29, 2010
  • By Katherine Bourzac

The U.S. has plenty of the metals that are critical to many green-energy technologies, but engineering and R&D expertise have moved overseas.

Rare-earth elements were obscure until the past year, when China, their primary producer, tightened export quotas on the materials. Rare-earth elements are used in a multitude of technologies, including magnets for wind turbines, hybrid-car batteries, fluorescent lightbulbs, and hard drives.

China is not the only country with significant reserves of these valuable materials; in fact, the U.S. was their primary producer until the 1990s, when the Chinese began undercutting the Americans on cost. Now companies in the U.S. and Australia are ramping up production at two rich sites for rare earths, but the process will take years. Getting from rocks to the pure metals and alloys required for manufacturing requires several steps that U.S. companies no longer have the infrastructure or the intellectual property to perform.

Contrary to their name, rare-earth metals are abundant in the Earth’s crust, and significant reserves are concentrated in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and other countries. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are 13 million tons of extractable rare earths in the United States, 5.4 million in Australia, and 19 million in Russia and neighboring countries. In 2009, China had 36 million.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Mountain Pass mine in California produced over 70 percent of the world’s supply. Yet in 2009, none were produced in the United States, and it will be difficult, costly, and time-consuming to ramp up again. “When you stop mining in this country, as investment goes down, expertise on cutting-edge technologies is exported as well,” says Carol Raulston, spokeswoman for the National Mining Association. Rare-earth researcher Karl Geschneidner of the Ames National Laboratory in Iowa also sees a lack of what he calls “intellectual infrastructure” for rare-earth technology development in the United States.

The two mines that will be stepping up production soonest are Mountain Pass, being developed by Molycorp, and the Mount Weld mine, which is being developed by Lynas, outside Perth, Australia. Mountain Pass has the edge of already having been established. But the company cannot use the processes used in the mine’s heyday: they’re both economically and environmentally unsustainable.

Several factors make purification of rare earths complicated. First, the 17 elements all tend to occur together in the same mineral deposits, and because they have similar properties, it’s difficult to separate them from one another. They also tend to occur in deposits with radioactive elements, particularly thorium and uranium. Those elements can become a threat if the “tailings,” the slushy waste product of the first step in separating rare earths from the rocks they’re found in, are not dealt with properly.

Mountain Pass went into decline in the 1990s when Chinese producers began to undercut the mine on price at the same time as it had safety issues with tailings. When the Mountain Pass mine was operating at full capacity, it produced 850 gallons of waste saltwater containing these radioactive elements every hour, every day of the year. The tailings were trucked to evaporation ponds. In 1998, Mountain Pass, which was then owned by a subsidiary of oil company Unocal, had a problem with tailing leaks; four years later, the company’s permit for storing the tailings ran out and Unocal did not pursue its renewal.

Meanwhile, throughout the 1990s, Chinese mines exploited their foothold in the rare-earth market. The Chinese began unearthing the elements as a byproduct of an iron-ore mine called Bayan Obo in the northern part of the country; getting both products from the same site helped keep prices low initially. And the country invested in R&D around rare-earth element processing, eventually opening several smaller mines, and then encouraging manufacturers that use these metals to set up facilities in the country.

Meanwhile, worldwide demand for rare-earth elements has been growing. This year demand was 125,000 tons; by 2015, it is expected to grow to 225,000 tons, and Molycorp spokesman Jim Sims notes that this projection does not include the wind-turbine industry, which is expected to be a major market. State-of-the-art wind turbines like those that will be installed at the world’s largest wind farm, an 845-megawatt facility in Oregon, use high-efficiency rare-earth magnets. They can be 10 times lighter and smaller than comparable magnets but equally strong. Each of these magnets requires a ton of rare earths, Sims says.

Molycorp renewed the Mountain Pass mining permit and began R&D of its own in 2004. This year, using rock that was mined before a previous permit expired and new separation technologies it has developed, the company will sell 3,000 tons of rare earths. By 2012, Molycorp expects to produce 20,000 tons a year, and under its current mining permits could double capacity to 40,000 tons. Sims also says the company will sell rare-earth products at half the cost of the Chinese in 2012. According to the company, these savings will be made possible by several changes, such as eliminating the production of waste saltwater. Molycorp will use a closed-loop system, converting the waste back into the acids and bases required for separation and eliminating the need to buy such chemicals. The company will also install a natural-gas power cogeneration facility onsite to cut energy costs.

But Ames Lab’s Geschneidner notes that one major source of cost in the separation process can’t be eliminated–the fact that it simply takes a long time. Milled rock is shaken again and again in a mixture of solvents to separate the elements by weight; depending on the ultimate purity that’s required, this must be done 10,000 to 100,000 times. The result is then sold as a concentrate or treated to produce rare-earth metal oxides.

Even if Molycorp does succeed in reducing the costs of separation by half, the next step in production may cause a hiccup. Rare-earth oxides and concentrates do have a market, for example as catalysts for the petroleum industry, but they can’t be made into magnets. To make magnets, rare-earth oxides must first be converted into pure metals, a process that produces caustic byproducts, and is done solely in China today. Sims says that Molycorp is investigating pathways that are environmentally friendly and aren’t covered under intellectual property owned by foreign companies. These metals must next be made into alloys suitable for the magnets, another capability that’s concentrated overseas, mostly in Japan and Germany.

The company’s goal is to control every step along the supply chain, through production of alloys and eventually the magnets, too. Here, too, the U.S. lacks infrastructure and intellectual property, so Molycorp hopes to license or buy patents on making alloys, and will make magnets through a joint venture with another company.

By going public in July, Molycorp raised $379 million of the $511 million the company believes is required to put in place its projects by 2012. A bill pending in the House and the Senate would offer loan guarantees for Molycorp and other investors in rare-earth mines. And the company has applied for loan guarantees through the U.S. Department of Energy, which will give a final decision next summer.

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Feng shui man’s hand chopped off


Source: The star.com.my
Vicious attack: Police personnel checking the victim’s car for clues after the incident last night. The severed hand is still missing

GEORGE TOWN: A feng shui master had his left hand chopped off in a savage attack outside a restaurant near Jalan Masjid Negeri.

Th’ng Keat Seong, 44, was believed to be walking to his Mercedes-Benz when he was attacked at Jalan Lintang Emas near Jalan Besi at about 8pm last night.

Blood stains were found on the boot of his car which indicated that his assailants could have held his hand there before chopping it off.

Th’ng’s cries attracted the attention of passers-by who rushed him to a private hospital.

He managed to call his sister-in-law to seek help after the attack.

The number of assailants is not known at press time.

It is learnt that the police are looking for the missing hand.

Penang police chief Deputy Comm Datuk Wira Ayub Yaakob said they were investigating the motive for the attack.

It is learnt that police have not ruled out the possibility that someone could have tried to extort money from him.

I never saw it coming, says feng shui master who lost left hand

By ZALINAH NOORDIN
zalinah@thestar.com.my

GEORGE TOWN: Feng shui master Th’ng Keat Seong, whose left hand was chopped off in a vicious attack on Monday, says he really did not see it coming.

Th’ng admitted he did not get any premonition that something bad would happen.

“I am a feng shui expert. I don’t predict the future as I’m not a fortune teller,” he said.

Th’ng, 44, offers consultancy services to his clients and has his own shop selling feng shui items in Penang Times Square shopping mall,

He claimed there was someone out there who did not want him in the business due to jealousy.

Th’ng said he was walking to his car after dinner at a restaurant when he was attacked at Jalan Lintang Emas, near Jalan Besi, at about 8pm on Monday night.

Blood stains found on the car boot indicated that his assailants could have held his hand there before chopping it off.

“It all happened so fast and I can’t really recollect what happened, or how the assailants looked like.

“All I can remember is that someone yanked my left arm from behind and I felt a searing pain. The next thing I knew, my left hand was missing and there was a lot of blood,” said Th’ng, who is right handed, when met at the the Gleneagles Medical Centre yesterday.

Feng shui man’s hand still missing

GEORGE TOWN: The left hand of a feng shui master which was chopped off by assailants here on Tuesday is still missing.Chances are even if the missing hand is found, it would be too late for surgeons to reattach it.

A medical expert, who declined to be named, said under normal circumstances, a severed hand has to be reattached within six hours to have any chance of functioning again.

George Town OCPD Asst Comm Gan Kong Meng believed Th’ng Keat Seong’s assailants had made off with the hand after hacking it off.

“The victim could hardly recall anything as he was in great pain. More than one assailant were involved in the savage attack,” he said yesterday.

ACP Gan said they were investigating the case from all possible angles, including business rivalry as the motive.

“We are appealing to eyewitnesses to furnish us with details of the attack. Those with information can inform the nearest police station,” he said.

Th’ng, 44, offers consultancy services to his clients and has his own shop selling feng shui items at the Penang Times Square shopping mall.

Th’ng, who is reported to be in stable condition, refused to talk to the media yesterday.

He was attacked when he walked to his car after dinner at a restaurant in Jalan Lintang Emas, near Jalan Besi, on Tuesday.

Attackers sever geomancer’s hand
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A good fortune teller/fengshui master tell will never read his own life…that is the trick in their trade.
Posted by: leechron at Sat Oct 23 10:20:15 SGT 2010
Don’t think feng shui master can see his own fortune…..i’d figured he can only see others misfortunes and rectify them before it’s too late…:)
Posted by: girlgonewild at Sat Oct 23 09:58:44 SGT 2010
MYS style of doing business?
Posted by: perceivedtobe at Sat Oct 23 06:52:28 SGT 2010


China claims supercomputer crown, a threat?


China has claimed the top spot on the list of the world’s supercomputers.

Tianhe supercomputer, Nvidia
The Tianhe-1A supercomputer is about 50% faster than its closest rival.

The title has gone to China’s Tianhe-1A supercomputer that is capable of carrying out more than 2.5 thousand trillion calculations a second.

To reach such high speeds the machine draws on more than 7,000 graphics processors and 14,000 Intel chips.

The claim to be the fastest machine on the planet has been ratified by the Top 500 Organisation which maintains a list of the most powerful machines.

High power

China’s Tianhe-1A (Milky Way) has taken over the top spot from America’s XT5 Jaguar at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee that can carry out only 1.75 petaflops per second. One petaflop is the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

The news about the machine broke just before the publication of the biennial Top 500 Supercomputer list which ranks the world’s most powerful machines.

Prof Jack Dongarra from the University of Tennessee, one of the computer scientists who helps to compile the list, said China’s claim was legitimate.

“This is all true,” he told BBC News. “I was in China last week and talked with the designers, saw the system, and verified the results.”

He added: “I would say it’s 47% faster than the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s machine, 1.7 Pflops (ORNL system) to 2.5 Pflops (Chinese system).”

Tianhe-1A is unusual in that it unites thousands of Intel processors with thousands of graphics cards made by Nvidia.

The chips inside graphics cards are typically made up of small arithmetical units that can carry out simple sums very quickly. By contrast, Intel chips are typically used to carry out more complicated mathematical operations.

The machine houses its processors in more than 100 fridge-sized cabinets and together these weigh more than 155 tonnes.

Based in China’s National Center for Supercomputing in the city of Tianjin, the computer has already started to do work for the local weather service and the National Offshore Oil Corporation.

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Is China a supercomputer threat?

Jack Dongarra, a professor at University of Tennessee's department of electrical engineering. China's supercomputer is a wake-up call.Jack Dongarra, a professor at University of Tennessee’s department of electrical engineering. China’s supercomputer is a ‘wake-up call.’

With China expected to officially take the supercomputer performance crown next month, I asked an expert about the state of supercomputing in the U.S. and whether China poses a long-term threat to the United States’ current preeminence in supercomputing.

Nvidia announced yesterday that its chips are powering the “Tianhe-1A” Chinese supercomputer that achieved 2.507 petaflops, beating a U.S.-based system that is currently ranked No. 1 on the June Top500 list of the fastest supercomputers in the world. The Chinese system is a unique hybrid design that uses approximately 7,000 Nvidia graphics chips along with 14,000 Intel Xeon CPUs. The graphics chips are what give the system the extra oomph to catapult it into the top supercomputer spot.

I spoke with Jack Dongarra, university distinguished professor at University of Tennessee’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and part of a group from the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and Georgia Tech that recently purchased a hybrid system. It is important to note that Oak Ridge houses the supercomputer, dubbed “Jaguar,” cited above that is currently ranked No. 1 in the world based on the Top500 June list: it is not a hybrid system.

Q: Does Oak Ridge have anything analogous to the Chinese hybrid system?
Dongarra: Oak Ridge has a small version of a machine that is hybrid in nature. So, this is an acquisition that just took place…out of a grant from the National Science Foundation. It involved Oak Ridge National Labs, University of Tennessee, and Georgia Tech. But it’s much, much smaller than the Chinese system. The machine is in place and testing is being carried out at Oak Ridge. A node has two Intel Westmere chips and three Nvidia Fermi boards. There are 120 nodes in the system.

What makes the Chinese supercomputer so fast?
Dongarra: The Chinese designed their own interconnect. It’s not commodity. It’s based on chips, based on a router, based on a switch that they produce.

Is that in essence the secret sauce?
Dongarra: It’s similar to Cray. Cray’s contribution, besides the integration and software, is the interconnect network. They have a very fast interconnect that makes that machine perform very well. Though [the Chinese] project is based on U.S. processors, it uses a Chinese interconnect. That’s the interesting part. They’ve put something together that is roughly twice the bandwidth of an InfiniBand interconnect [which is used widely in the U.S.]

Will the Chinese system in fact take the No. 1 spot on the Top500 list in November?
Dongarra: Yes. I saw the machine. I saw the output. It’s the real thing.

Why doesn’t Oak Ridge do what the Chinese are doing?
Dongarra: Oak Ridge doesn’t have the ability or technology to develop an interconnect or a router. We don’t make computers. We buy computers and use them. It’s not within our scope or mission to be in the computer design business.

What’s your advice?
Dongarra: You have to remember that you have to not only invest in the hardware. It’s like a race car. In order to run the race car, you need a driver. You need to effectively use the machine. And we need to invest in various levels within the supercomputer ecology. The ecology is made up of the hardware, the operating system, the compiler, the applications, the numerical libraries, and so on. And you have to maintain an investment across that whole software stack in order to effectively use the hardware. And that’s an aspect that sometimes we forget about. It’s underfunded. We fund the hardware but we don’t fund the other components. The ecosystem tends to get out of balance because the hardware tends to run far ahead of what we can develop in terms of software. We have machines that have a tremendous level of parallelism. We currently have a very crude way of doing programming.

Who would do that?
Dongarra: The research is performed under the auspices of the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense.

Is this a red flag for the U.S.?
Dongarra: Yes, this is a wake-up call. We need to realize that other countries are capable of doing this. We’re losing an advantage.

Brooke Crothers has been an editor at large at CNET News, an analyst at IDC Japan, and an editor at The Asian Wall Street Journal Weekly. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

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