What parents need to know about VR ?


The hottest tech in videogames is virtual reality. Find out its potential effects on kids before buying a headset.

 

VR can make you think and feel things you know aren’t real. —Dreamstime/TNS
EVERYONE who’s tried it agrees: virtual reality is mind-blowing. Once you strap on that headset, you truly believe you’re strolling on a Parisian street, careening on a roller coaster, or immersed in the human body exploring the inner workings of the oesophagus.

But for all its coolness – and its potential uses, from education to medicine – not a lot is known about how VR affects kids. Common sense Media’s new report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of stanford University’s virtual Human Interaction Lab, offers a first-of-its-kind overview of the expanding uses for the technology and its potential effects on kids.

Now that VR devices from inexpensive viewers to game consoles to full-scale gaming arcades are finally here – with lots more coming soon – it’s a good idea to start thinking about how to manage VR when it comes knocking at your door.

VR can make you think and feel things you know aren’t real. Other media can give you the sense of “being there” – what’s called psychological presence – but not to the extent that VR can. This unique ability is what makes it so important to understand more about the short- and long-term effects of the technology on kids. Here are some of the key findings from the report.

Even though we don’t yet have all the answers to how vR affects kids, we know enough to consider some pros and cons. And whether kids are using vR through a mobile device like Google Cardboard, on a console like the Playstation vR, on a fully tricked-out desktop rig like the Oculus Rift, or at a mall arcade, these guidelines can help you keep any vR experience your kids have safe and fun.

Pay attention to age ratings. Check the recommended age on the headset package and don’t let younger kids use products designed for older kids. The minimum age isn’t based on medical proof of adverse effects on the brain and vision, but it’s the manufacturer’s best guess as to who the product is safest for.

Choose games wisely. Because the vR game experience can be more intense than that of regular games, it’s even more important to check reviews to make sure the gameplay, the content and the subject matter are appropriate for your kid.

Keep it safe. A few precautions: Once you have the goggles on, orient yourself to the room by touching the walls; stick to short sessions until you know how you’re affected by vR; stay seated if possible; move furniture out of the way; and have a second person as a spotter.

Pay attention to feelings – both physical and emotional. If you’re feeling sick to your stomach, dizzy, drained, or sad, angry, or anxious – give it a rest for a while.

Talk about experiences. since vR feels so real, it’s an excellent time to talk through what your kid has experienced in a game. Ask what it felt like, what the differences are between vR and regular games, and how vR helps you connect to other people’s experiences by putting you in someone else’s shoes.

Find opportunities; avoid pitfalls. Don’t let your kids play vR games that mimic experiences you wouldn’t want them to have in real life, such as using violent weapons. On the other hand, take advantage of vR that exposes kids to things they wouldn’t normally get to see, feel, and learn, such as visiting a foreign country.

Keep privacy in mind. Devices that can track your movements – including eye movements – could store that data for purposes that haven’t yet been invented. — Common sense Media/Tribune news service.

Star2 Technology  by Caroline Knorr

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5,000 Malaysians are illegals in South Korea, lured by higher pay, living underground !


A tough life: Malaysians seen working at a vegetable farm near Seoul. 

SEOUL: An estimated 5,000 Malay­sians are working and staying illegally in South Korea, with the less fortunate ones forced to live like refugees and always on the run from the authorities.

Lured by job advertisements that claimed they could make money hand over fist in the land of K-pop and Descendants of the Sun, they paid recruitment agents thousands of ringgit in fees and entered the country on tourist visas.

Unfortunately, many of them have been left in dire straits after finding out that reality did not match up with the promises.

Star Media Group’s Bahasa Malaysia news portal mStar Online sent a team to South Korea to look into their plight and found many of these Malaysians stranded and destitute.
These 5,000, based on figures that volunteer aid workers pieced together from Malaysians and recruitment agents, are part of an estimated 251,000 illegal foreign workers in the country as reported by The Korea Herald.

Their problems, first highlighted by the portal in a series of special reports in association with The Korea Herald in January, ranged from suffering permanent disability after workplace accidents to being left broke and homeless when they were fired by their employers.

Among the locations the team visited were Itaewon in the central region and Daeso and Muguk in Eumseoung district, about 80km from Seoul.

A Malaysian who wanted to be known only as Farhan said he and two of his friends have been homeless for more than two months since they were fired without pay after working at a seaweed processing company for just one week.

“I was fired because I came down with fever a week after starting work. We have to rely on our friends for food,” he said, adding that sometimes they only had biscuits to eat.

The 24-year-old said that on weekends, they would sleep at the Seoul Central Mosque, while on weekdays, they would stay at a friend’s house.

Visiting the mosque, the mStar Online team found several bags in the corridors, believed to belong to the foreign workers who sleep there.

Another Malaysian, who did not want to be named, said she had to live in one house with 18 others.

The woman, who works on an onion and sweet potato farm, said the house is so overcrowded that some of them have to sleep in front of the toilet or on the kitchen floor.

She and her housemates said there had been cases of Malaysians being physically abused if they did not work fast enough.

Their story was echoed by others the team interviewed, as well as those who came forward in the earlier reports in January, and because of their illegal status, they are often exploited, made to work long hours without rest and barred from talking to their colleagues.

The risk of accidents is also great because they are seldom given briefings or safety equipment and protective gear.

After such hardship, their labour sometimes even goes unrewarded because of employers who, taking advantage of their workers’ illegal status, hold back their pay in the belief that they would not dare report it to the authorities.

As a result, many suffer in silence for fear of being detained by the authorities, and are ignorant of their rights as workers.

Winter in South Korea will come to an end later this month. Without money, shelter or a way home, these stranded Malaysians can only wait it out, and hope for new job opportunities that will be available in the spring.

Source: The Star by nadia shaiful bahari

Malaysian workers ‘living underground’ 

Some of them are forced to live on the streets.

SEOUL: The 5,000 Malaysians working and staying illegally in South Korea may be grouped into six categories, based on the findings of the mStar Online team that visited South Korea and spoke to some of those affected.

The lucky ones

These are the “successful” ones who entered the country on tourist visas, have the funds to return home or travel to other countries after these visas expire. They then return to South Korea on new tourist visas and take up jobs here again.

Those in this category are considered fortunate because they have responsible employers who pay them as promised. They have also managed to evade the authorities.

Those who overstay

There are also Malaysians who took the risk of overstaying. They are either working or waiting for other job opportunities. They can get by as long as they are not caught or face workplace issues such as accidents or exploitation by their employers.

Generally, it can be said that those who belong to the first two groups managed to realise their dream, have a place to stay, and are living comfortably in a foreign land.


• The unemployed and homeless

On the other hand, there are those who have been made homeless and forced to sleep in mosques or rely on the kindness of friends.

Their situation is caused by several factors: they may have been cheated by recruitment agents, had their salaries withheld, or had their contracts terminated, leaving them with nowhere to live and no funds to return to Malaysia.

• Waiting for spring

Job opportunities drop considerably during winter. Those without work are forced to endure the cold and wait for spring, which brings more job openings with it.

Those who have the money would not find the winter months a problem, but the unemployed have to depend on others for food and shelter.


• Accident victims

There are also those who overstay because of workplace accidents. They have to remain behind while waiting for their cases to be heard at the Labour Office so that they can claim compensation from their employers.


• Those on medical visas

Some of those hurt in workplace accidents are fortunate enough to be granted medical visas by the authorities, enabling them to stay in South Korea until their treatment is completed.

The specific reasons for not returning home vary from one individual to the next. Some may be victims of circumstance, while others are just determined to achieve their goals and earn as much as they can before coming back.

And with each new job opportunity that comes along, a new set of risks and hazards arises.

Malaysians lured by higher pay

Getting the story: Nadia speaking to an agent about the risks of illegal employment in South Korea.
Getting the story: Nadia speaking to an agent about the risks of illegal employment in South Korea.

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysians who brave the perils of working and staying illegally in South Korea do so because of monthly salaries advertised in the range of RM6,000 to RM12,000.

In fact, recruitment agents say, they choose to go even after being told of the risks involved.

It is estimated that as many as 5,000 Malaysians have gone there since 2016, to work in factories producing kimchi, cosmetics, calendars, furniture, auto spare parts and aluminium, among other items.

When the big pay they expected does not materialise, usually because of workplace accidents or exploitation by unscrupulous employers, they often find themselves homeless and broke.

An mStar Online team probing their plight spoke to one agent who said about 800 Malaysians had used his services last year alone.

The agent, who asked to be known only as Nasir, said he charged each customer RM2,800.

The amount covers securing the job, a return air ticket and a South Korean job agency’s fees.

According to The Korea Herald, there are about 251,000 illegal workers from various countries working in South Korea.

This group is highly exposed to occupational hazards and is at risk of being duped or exploited by employers because of their immigration status.

Local agents as well as aid volunteers in Seoul said Malaysians made up about 5,000 of the overall figure.

Taufik, another agent, said he knew of about 20 others who were in the same line.

“I personally handled trips for almost 100 Malaysians to South Korea since 2016,” he added.

He said not all agents were responsible enough to inform their clients of the risks.

Taufik said he was honest in his dealings and made sure those who used his services were fully aware of the risks they faced as illegals working in South Korea.

However, he was surprised to see that all these potential problems did not deter a single one of his clients from going to South Korea, which reportedly had the highest household income in Asia.

“There are agents who do not give clear information, but I tell my customers about the real situation and ask them to think carefully before going.

“Among the most important things they must have is a strong spirit.

“This is just my side job. I have my own business. I don’t depend on their money,” he told mStar Online.

Taufik claimed he only pocketed RM500 to RM600 of the RM2,500 fee he charged clients.

Based on surveys and from talking to agents and their clients, the team learned that an agent stood to make up to RM15,000 for every batch of recruits – ranging from 10 to 30 per group – sent to South Korea.

Another agent, Azhar, said it was easy to get through immigration checks there as the job seekers posed as tourists.

To prove they were just visiting, Azhar said he would provide them with fake return tickets to show to South Korean immigration officials.

His package, priced at RM2,500, includes one night’s accommodation, a prepaid T-Money payment card, job arrangement charges and transport to the workplace.

Source:Star by nadia shaiful bahari

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Hard choice for Malaysian in South Korea – Nation | The Star Online

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Stain on image of Malaysians – Letters | The Star Online

 

In a knot after going to South Korea to earn wedding expenses

 

Demanding conditions: Workers labouring at a construction site in Seoul. Malaysians, using tourist visas to work as illegal labourers, take up tough jobs in the manufacturing, construction and plantation sectors in South Korea. — AP Malaysians Lured by high pay and benefits – Nation | The Star Online

Demanding conditions: Workers labouring at a
construction site in Seoul. Malaysians, using tourist visas to work as
illegal labourers, take up tough jobs in the manufacturing, construction
and plantation sectors in South Korea. — AP

Choi sentenced to 20 years’ jail

Choi sentenced to 20 years’ jail

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Pooch and prejudice: years of the Dog 2018 and Pig 2019


No puppy love: To immortalise Hachiko’s loyalty, a shiny bronze sculpture stands near the Shibuya train station.

I decided to celebrate Chinese New Year away from Malaysia this year, so my wife and I chose Tokyo as our destination.

We wanted somewhere that was a short flight’s distance for a brief getaway to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary, an occasion marked auspiciously by Valentine’s Day and of course, this time around, the Chinese New Year holidays too.

Now, the problem with Tokyo is the absence of any form of Chinese New Year mood there since it is not observed by the Japanese. But the cool weather was a refreshing change from the stifling heat currently enveloping Malaysia.

That said, the Year of the Dog would not be complete without tipping the hat to Japan’s most revered dog at Tokyo’s Shibuya metro station.

There, a statue of the faithful and fabled canine Hachiko has been erected as a homage, where selfie opportunities are mandatory for anyone visiting Tokyo to realise their trip.

The dog, from the Akita prefecture, has long become a symbol of faithfulness, a trait familiar with dog lovers.

This legendary canine was born in the city of Odate but ended up being owned by university professor Hidesaburo Ueno, who lived in the Shiba neighbourhood.

Hachiko would wait patiently at the same spot in the train station for his owner to return on the 4pm train from his workplace, the Tokyo Imperial University.

But one day in May 1925, the professor never returned to greet his loyal friend after suffering a fatal cerebral haemorrhage on campus.

A forlorn Hachiko would return to that same spot for the next 10 years, hoping to be reunited with his master.

“It is said that the dog would wait outside the station every evening – a model of fidelity and patience,” the Japan Times reported.

To immortalise the canine’s loyalty, a shiny bronze sculpture stands at the Shibuya station. The art fixture was put up in 1934 and has since become one of the area’s main tourist attractions.

The story inspired the 2009 film Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, starring Richard Gere. And less known, perhaps, is Hachiko Monogatari from 1987, which relates the same tale.

The body of golden-brown Hachiko, which has been described as the most faithful dog in history, was found in a Tokyo street in 1935. He had died of old age. To keep his memory alive, he was preserved and placed on display at the National Science Museum.

He also has his own memorial beside his master’s grave at the Aoyam cemetery.

In 2015, a new statue was installed at the University of Tokyo, the new name of the imperial university, to mark the 90th anniversary of Ueno’s death and the 80th of his dog’s.

“The statue depicts a joyous image of the professor and his loyal dog being reunited. It tells a happy tale of master and dog reunited forever at last,” a news article reported.

As we celebrate the Year of the Dog, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department must be applauded for assuring Muslims that using images of dogs for Chinese New Year celebrations “is something that must be respected by all” and “according to the Islamic concept of co-existence, as well as Malaysia’s practice of moderate Islam”.

Jakim director-general Tan Sri Othman Mustapha’s statement was certainly welcome and was even a pleasant surprise for many non-Muslims, who often view the authority as conservative.

After all, this is the same agency that insisted popular pretzel chain Auntie Anne change the name of its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage”.

Non-Muslims have always been respectful of how Muslims consider dogs unclean under Islamic tradition.

Some have gone to ridiculous lengths to ensure that such sensitivity is observed – even leaving out the likeness of two animals, the dog and pig, from the Chinese zodiac!

Believe it or not, a T-shirt maker printed tops like these to represent the 12 zodiac animals for the Chinese New Year recently.

And some malls even chose not to use image of dogs in their Chinese New Year decorations.

Not surprisingly, the over-reaction of these business entities have irked their Chinese customers, judging from the response on social media.

It may seem surprising that Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has produced some of the best veterinary doctors in this country, the majority of them Muslim.

My late dog Jezz, a gorgeous white Spitz, lived for 16 years and endured that long because of the loving affection of a Muslim vet at UPM.

She showed her care, not just as an animal doctor, but as someone who consistently reminded her students and visiting pet owners that dogs are also God’s creations.

A young tudung-clad Muslim vet from a clinic in Aman Suria, Petaling Jaya, has also been doing a wonderful job of looking after the health of my poodle, Paris.

In all my visits to consult these two doctors, neither has ever displayed any apprehension or disdain in handling my pets. They have always been professional and are true animal lovers, even graciously accepting dogs.

Next year, the Chinese will celebrate the Year of the Pig. For whatever reason, we have become more afraid these days, a situation far different from the past.

Well, the last time we celebrated the Year of the Pig in 2008, nothing untoward happened and the chubby animal didn’t disappear into thin air then either.

I have always had complete faith in the sense of reasoning and maturity of our people, and I believe no one will lose their head over a zodiac sign.

Wong Chun WaiBy Wong Chun Wai
Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.
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Make environment our 2018 priority


Our Environment is Our Life – YouTube

THE year has barely started, and already we have so many reports of weather and climate-related events.

Heavy wind, snow storms and below-freezing temperatures paralysed cities in the United States’ East Coast. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was in chaos with hundreds of flights suspended.

Yet, just weeks previously, big fires linked to a heat wave were sweeping through parts of California on the West Coast, burning 112.000ha of forest and threatening lives and homes.

Colder weather in one place and hotter temperatures in another are signs of global climate change, which can also cause heavier rainfall and drought in different regions.

While it is difficult to pin down any particular incident as a direct result of climate change, it is recognised scientifically that climate change generally exacerbates extreme weather events and may cause some of them.

We can expect the weather, and more broadly the environment, to figure prominently this year.

The alarm bells sounded long ago on the environmental crisis. But it is not easy to achieve a continuous high level of concern among political leaders.

After a calamity and public outrage, there are pledges to correct the situation. However, the interest fades after a while, and not much action is taken, until the next disaster happens.

In Malaysia, people are now looking at the sky constantly to anticipate whether it is going to rain.

Heavy rainfall has been causing floods in Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Johor, Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Selangor, Sabah and Sarawak.

In Penang, severe state-wide flash floods seem to be occurring every few months, with localised flooding in several areas in between. The mud brought down from eroded hill-slopes into overflowing rivers and then into houses, makes floods an even worse nightmare for those affected.

For some unlucky ones, hardly have their houses and furniture been cleaned than they are under one metre of water again through a new flood.

Heavier rain and more floods is the new normal in Malaysia. There has been an increase in rainfall for most parts of the country in 2000-2009 compared to 1970-1999, with the major increase in 2005-2009, according to a 2012 paper by Yap Kok Seng, then the head of the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment (MMD), and his colleagues.

The global temperature increase has led to changes in weather including major wind patterns, amount and intensity of precipitation, and increased frequency of severe storms and weather extremes, according to the paper, Malaysia Climate Change Scenarios.

In Malaysia since the 1980s, there had been increasing number of days of extreme rainfall events, extreme wind events and annual thunderstorm days, added the paper.

Unfortunately the situation will worsen. A study published on Jan 10, whose authors are affiliated with Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, predicted that millions more people will be affected by river flooding as global warming increases severe rainfall in the next 20 years.

In Asia, the most affected region, people at risk from floods will rise to 156 million from the present 70 million in the next 20 years.

Global warming increases the risk of flooding because rain during an extreme downpour “increases exponentially” as temperatures rise, the institute’s Anders Levermann told Reuters.

“We have to adapt to global warming. Doing nothing will be dangerous,” he said.

Countries will have to act urgently and make major investments in flood protection to boost their flood defences, according to the report.

This advice surely applies to Malaysia as one of the countries already being affected by heavier rainfall and extensive river flooding.

Flood mitigation measures must be increased, including de-silting, widening and deepening rivers, improving urban drainage, strengthening river banks, redirecting water flows, constructing tidal gates, and pumping excess water into ponds.

Even more important is flood prevention. A main cause of the floods is deforestation, leading to the loss of the forests’ valuable roles in soil and water retention and climate regulation.

It is really short-sighted and irrational to damage and destroy forests, especially forest reserves and water catchment areas.

Exposed soils are swept by rain into rivers, clogging up streams and drains with mud and causing floods downstream in the towns and villages, while also depriving us of much-needed water supply.

There is a great deal of public concern over recent developments that threaten forests and hill lands in the country.

These include the de-gazetting of the Ulu Muda water catchment area in Kedah; the de-gazetting of hill lands in Penang that previously were protected under the Land Conservation Act and which are now being “developed” with the aid of higher permitted density ratio; the conversion of 4,515ha forest reserve to cultivate oil palm plantations in Terengganu (being opposed by WWF-Malaysia); and protests over the imminent loss of a forested park in Taman Rimba Kiara in Kuala Lumpur to make way for housing.

Federal, state and local governments should give priority to environmental rehabilitation of damaged forests and hills, prevent damage to the coastal ecosystem including mangroves, and take comprehensive flood prevention and mitigation measures.

They should stop approving environmentally harmful projects in ecologically sensitive areas.

They must make major financial allocations to protect and rehabilitate the environment, and implement finance measures to prevent and manage the floods.

As so many scientists are warning, and as more and more local communities and citizen groups are demanding, the time to act on the environment is now. Let us hope that in 2018 these calls will be heeded.

Global trends by Martin Khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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Moving forward with affordable housing


One way to solve housing shortage problem is to build more houses.

“If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such
as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very
important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing
for their people.”

THE issue of affordable housing has been a hot potato for many countries, especially for a nation with a growing population and urbanisation like ours.

In my previous article, I mentioned that there was a growing shortage of affordable housing in our country according to Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim. The shortage is expected to reach one million units by 2020.

According to Bank of England governor Mark Carney, one of the most effective ways to address the issue is to build more houses. There are good examples in countries like United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, which have 2.4, 2.6 and 3.35 persons per household respectively.

In comparison, the average persons per household in our country is 4.06 person, a ratio which Australia had already achieved in 1933! To improve the current ratio, we need to put more effort into building houses to bring prices down.

If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing for their people.

For example in Singapore, their Housing and Development Board (HDB) has built over one million flats and houses since 1960, to house 90% of Singaporeans in their properties. In Hong Kong, the government provides affordable housing for lower-income residents, with nearly half of the population residing in some form of public housing nowadays. The rents and prices of public housing are subsidised by the government and are significantly lower than for private housing.

To be on par with Australia (2.6 persons per household), our country needs a total of 8.6 million homes to house our urban population of 22.4 million people. In other words, we need an additional 3.3 million houses on top of our existing 5.3 million residential houses.

However, with our current total national housing production of about 80,000 units a year, it will take us more than 40 years to build 3.3 million houses! With household formation growing at a faster rate than housing production, we will still be faced with a housing shortage 40 years from now.

Therefore, even if the private sector dedicated all its current output to build affordable housing, it will still be a long journey ahead to produce sufficient houses for the nation. It is of course impossible for the private sector to do so as it will be running at a loss due to rising costs of land and construction.

In view of the above, the government has to shoulder the responsibility of building more houses for the rakyat due to the availability of resources owned by the government. Land, for example, is the most crucial element in housing development. As a lot of land resources are owned by government, they must offer these lands to relevant agencies or authorities to develop affordable housing.

I recall when I was one of the founding directors of the Selangor State Development Corp in 1970s, its main objectives was to build public housing for the rakyat.

However, today the corporation has also ventured into high end developments in order to subsidise its affordable housing initiatives. This will somehow distract them from focusing on the affordable housing sector.

Although government has rolled out various initiatives in encouraging affordable houses, it is also important for the authorities to constantly review the original objectives of the relevant housing agencies, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations, Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme, to ensure they have ample resources especially land and funding to continue their mission in building affordable housing.

A successful housing policy and easy access to affordable housing have a huge impact on the rakyat. It is hoped that our government escalates its effort in building affordable housing, which will enhance the happiness and well-being of the people, and the advancement of our nation.


Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
By Alan Tong

In the digital dumps: technology triggers teen depression


Teenagers are unable to disconnect from their
smartphones, causing them undue anxiety and distress. But according to experts, saying no to smartphones is not the solution.

Teenagers feel if they’re not on social media all the time, they’re missing something important, or will miss out on a  funny conversation, or someone might say something about them, according to Nolan. — 123rf.com
Technology is how teenagers maintain relationships so Nolan advises parents to discuss and find healthy ways to use it. — dpa
“We know that people rely on smartphones. A recent study shows we touch them about 2,500 times a day on average ”

Brian Bolan, guidance director at Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Illinois.

“Nobody likes to feel a loss of control. So work with them to arrive at a
mutually agreed upon reasonable amount of time to spend on the phone.
Haveitbea discussion, a collaboration. That will probably yield better
results than just saying, ‘No phones’.”
– The Daily Southtown/ Tribune
News Service

Parents have to help teenagers turn off in a world that’s always on.

The problem with teens and ­smartphones, experts say, is “they’re always on”.

Both of them. And that can take a toll on their mental health. A new study links anxiety, severe depression, suicide attempts and suicide with the rise in use of smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Parents are urged to help their children foster real ­relationships, the ones that involve making eye contact and ­interpreting body ­language. Local mental health experts encourage teens and ­parents to establish a routine that fosters a balance between real and virtual communication, even as many adolescents will no doubt have found gifts of technology under the tree last holiday.

For as smart as phones may be these days, they simply don’t know when to quit. To protect their kids’ mental health, parents must ­develop methods for outsmarting them, experts say, and often that involves simply turning them off.

Jean Twenge, psychology professor at San Diego State University and a graduate of the University of Chicago, has written extensively on youth and mental health. She has released a study that shows a ­correlation between the rise of the smartphone and increasing rates of depression, suicide attempts and suicide itself among teens.

According to news reports, the finding is based on CDC data and teen-issued surveys that revealed that feelings of hopelessness and suicidal contemplation had gone up by 12% during the time period and that nearly half of the teens who indicated they spend five or more hours a day on a ­smartphone, laptop or tablet said they had contemplated, planned or attempted suicide at least once – compared with 28% of those who said they spend less than an hour a day on a device.

Local school counselors and social workers as well as clinical mental health experts at local ­hospitals in the United States ­confirm they are seeing an uptick in signs of depression and/or ­anxiety among teens. But, they also say, there are things parents and professionals can do to help curb the risks.

Too much, too often

“I just came from a South Side guidance directors conference where we heard from a couple of hospitals in the area that treat ­students for depression or suicidal tendencies or high anxiety. They’re telling us they’ve seen quite an uptick, that they’re hiring staff, they’ve got longer waiting times, they’re running more programmes just to keep up with the need they’re seeing among high school kids and even younger kids,” said Brian Nolan, guidance director at Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Illinois.

Nolan said, “My belief is that today’s technology never allows children to truly disengage from their social lives. When we were kids we could hang out with our friends during the day and then at night, we’d have down time with the family or we might go shoot hoops or play Legos away from friends, so we could gain some kind of balance.”

But the smartphone’s ability to connect us all immediately doesn’t allow that social interaction to ever be turned off, he said. Some of the allure is the desire to be included, and some of it is defensive, he said.

“They feel like if they’re not on it all the time, they’re missing ­something important, or will miss out on a funny conversation, or someone might say something about them. There’s a lot of worry and concern and stress about what’s going on in social media at a time when it would be nice for a child to step away from it and not care,” Nolan said.

“We know that people rely on smartphones. A recent study shows we touch them about 2,500 times a day on average,” he said. “I use food as a metaphor. If a student is overeating or eating a bunch of junk food, you probably as a parent would have a conversation about better eating habits, the importance of exercise, moderation, things like that.”

“Cellphones are exactly the same. To tell a student you can’t use it, is the same as saying you can’t eat. That may sound extreme but that’s the ­reality. (Technology) is how they maintain ­relationships. So, it’s ­probably better to discuss healthy ways to use it,” he said.

Questions to ask your teen, he said, might include: Do you feel addicted to it? Are you checking it ­constantly? Can you set it down for awhile?

When students only ­interact via technology, Nolan said, “they’re much more likely to withdraw from healthier interactions and are more likely to be hypersensitive to what’s being posted. If they aren’t included they can feel lonely. If they are included, they can feel pressure to keep up”.

“I think parents feel bad (about this). It’s hard to attack a thing we don’t fully understand ourselves, because we didn’t grow up with it,” he added.

But, Nolan added, “modeling is a big piece of this. We as adults sometimes stop conversations with our own children because we have a text message coming in. Or we’ll text at the dinner table or while driving. So, we’re teaching our children that what comes through the phone is immediate and important and that it should take precedence over what we are currently doing”.

Equal access to good and bad

In her 17 years as a social worker at Argo High School in Summit, Illinois, Allison Bean said she’s had “a front row seat to the shift from a time where kids couldn’t wait to leave the house to hang out with their peers to the present day digital age where our kids are reluctant to leave the couch”.

“Many of my students may not have adequate clothing, food or even running water in their homes; but they have phones,” she said.

Teens, she said, “are (physically) isolating themselves more and more from their real support ­systems during a period of their lives that, even under the best ­circumstances, is very turbulent and stressful”.

Exacerbating the situation, Bean said, is that the very device that can cause depression is also giving fragile teens access to websites that can encourage them to engage in self-harming behaviours.

To complicate matters, she said, mental health experts are warning about the dangers of technology at a time when more schools are going paperless and issuing tablets to students.

“While there may be an upside to going paperless, one thing is ­certain: Our kids will be spending countless numbers of hours in front of some type of screen during the duration of their education. Headaches, tired eyes, and ­insomnia are bad for everyone. For students that are already prone to mental health issues, this too often results in truancy, low test scores, poor homework habits and ­depression,” she said.

“They are depriving themselves of the opportunity to exercise their social skills; skills that are critical for life. This is obviously dangerous in numerous ways. Not only does it dissuade students from ­leaving the confines of their rooms to engage with peers in a ­developmentally appropriate way, there are many predators online who are able to find young people who are vulnerable, isolated and desperately seeking attention,” she said.

“There’s no question mental health crises are on the rise, and at the high school level, depression and anxiety are the primary ­diagnoses that I see in our ­community,” she said.

Signs of trouble?

It’s not just technology that is causing the trouble, said Rian Rowles, chairman of psychiatric services at Advocate Christ Medical Center. In his 12 years at the Oak Lawn, Illinois hospital, the ­psychiatrist has seen the number of patients referred to the ­adolescent programme rise by more than half.

“It’s also social media. It’s very clear to me that the advent of social media has exacerbated stressors. Not just depression, but anxiety as well,” he said.

“There are stressors that go along with adolescence but you used to be able to leave the interpersonal stuff at school. Bullying used to be a school phenomenon.”

Social media, he said, can make it a 24/7 thing.

“When you’re writing and ­posting things, there’s a phenomenon in which you don’t have the same filter you might when talking on the phone or in person. I think that lends itself to more abrasive statements,” he said. “So not only is it constantly there for these kids, it’s more intense.”

Rowles said adolescents can have the same symptoms as adults when it comes to depression and anxiety: abrupt changes in sleep ability, appetite changes (usually significantly less food), social ­isolation marked by less ­communicating with friends and less participation in social or school events, and drastic or ­significant personality change, say from calm to irritable or angry.

Parents can help by reducing the amount of time a teen spends on social media, he said. Professional help typically involves teaching kids ways to develop new coping mechanisms.

Something that might surprise adults, Rowles said, is that ­overusing technology can have a detrimental affect on them, as well.

“Not as drastic, because of what kids have to deal with at school. The phenomenon I see in adults is someone who is already in my care for anxiety or depression and then they get on Facebook,” he said. “People will sort of put on Facebook things that make their life seem very wonderful and it may not be the reality but other people see that and it can ­contribute to their depression. (Facebook) makes it seem like everybody has a better life.”

Widening the lens

Technology may not be the lone culprit, and it is not necessarily bad, said Nadjeh Awadallah, licensed clinical professional ­therapist at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Illinois.

The current increase in ­depression and anxiety among teens might be attributed to a ­higher frequency of smartphone use and the fact there’s less stigma about mental health issues, Awadallah said.

“Kids are more prone to ­speaking about mental health issues than maybe they were before,” he said.

A lot of adolescents, he said, would argue that the relationships they have with people online are real relationships. “If they’re ­interacting at a high level of ­frequency, either talking with friends or playing videogames, they’re actually interacting with them,” he said.

And a phone can be a kind of “digital security blanket” in that it enables a person who is dealing with anxiety to look at their phone instead of at other people.

“It’s kind of protective if you want to be left alone,” he said.

Nevertheless, Awadallah added, there is “a great deal of benefit to interacting with somebody face to face because so much of communication has to do with nonverbal communication and giving feedback. When you’re just texting you have to imagine how the person’s voice sounds. It’s hard to deduce if someone is being ­genuine, or sarcastic. So whatever the person transplants onto the thing that they’re reading can impact their mood.

“There’s a high correlation between people withdrawing from person-to-person interaction and depression because that’s what people tend to do when they’re depressed,” he said. “So it’s kind of like a chicken and egg relationship where you don’t know if they’re depressed because they’re on ­electronic media or if they’re on electronic media because they’re depressed.”

Smartphone addiction is a form of process addiction, he said. “It’s a non-chemical addiction where ­people compulsively use the Internet or phone in lieu of self-care actions likes eating or ­sleeping,” he said.

Signs there might be a deep-­seated issue: problems at school, such as concentration, lack of ­energy, poor attendance or a drop in grades; substance abuse or superficial self-harm (such as cutting as an emotional release); and a significant decline in self-esteem.

What can parents do? Awadallah said, “Institute a routine. Make sure kids aren’t using phones or devices when supposed to be ­sleeping because exposing ­themselves to unnatural blue light that’s going to be overly ­stimulating and not let them sleep well. If they’re more invested with ­interacting online than with people in person, you need to talk.

“Nobody likes to feel a loss of control. So work with them to arrive at a mutually agreed upon reasonable amount of time to spend on the phone. Have it be a ­discussion, a collaboration. That will ­probably yield better results than just saying, ‘No phones’.”

— The Daily Southtown/Tribune News Service

How can parents help their teens?

● Encourage downtime

● Be a good role model

● Teach your child to develop coping skills

● Institute a routine

● Mutually agree on time limits for devices and social media

By donna vickroy, The Star

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Penang hit by floods again !


GEORGE TOWN: Some 20 houses located on a slope in Hong Seng Estate in Mount Erskine were flooded due to blocked underground drainage.

“Not again!” was the reaction of factory worker S. Kalaiselvi, 42, who found herself neck-deep in water at her house at 2am yesterday after a three-hour downpour.

She waded through the water to higher ground with her parents, who are in their 60s.

“I have been living here for 26 years and only now am I seeing such floods,” said Kalaiselvi, who also had to move out when her house was hit by the massive floods on Nov 4 and 5 last year.

Her father Subramanian Peru­mal, 68, said he was still waiting for the relevant authorities to resolve the problem.

At the site, firemen had to install a water pump to draw out the rainwater, which flooded most of the units to waist level at one point.

It was the third time that the area was flooded since October last year.

Last Oct 30, blocked underground drainage caused floodings affecting six houses during an evening downpour, followed by massive floods during the Nov 4 and 5 storm.

On Sept 29 last year, seven houses in the estate were also affected by soil erosion.

Consultant engineer Datuk Lim Kok Khong had said the soil erosion was due to water seeping under the ground.

Kebun Bunga assemblyman Cheah Kah Peng, who has been barred from helping out with the registration of flood victims for the one-off RM700 aid given by the Penang government, was also there but offered no concrete solution to the floods in the area.

Pulau Tikus assemblyman Yap Soo Huey said nine houses had to be demolished to make way for repair works.

She said they had offered owners of the nine affected houses a low medium-cost unit each as compensation, but the residents insisted on staying put.

Earlier, Penang Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said the latest floods were caused by the continuous downpour that began on Thursday evening.

“The rain also coincided with a 2.34mm high tide at 2.30am yesterday,” he said.

Chow said the short-term measures to deal with the floods were to dig and deepen the rivers, and carry out upgrading and cleaning works at riverbanks to ensure that there were no blockages.

In Bukit Mertajam, a low wall sealing off the entrance to a lorry driver’s house prevented it from being submerged in floodwaters all over again.

While the water on the road outside was up to knee level, Heng Kai Chin’s home remained relatively dry, thanks to the metre-high barrier of cement and bricks.

But Heng, 43, still skipped work yesterday to keep an eye on the flooding.

A state flood report said water had entered at least 100 homes in Bukit Mertajam.

Source: The Staronline

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PENANGITES woke up to a cloudy and rainy morning as continuous downpour lasting for hours inundated several parts of the state.
Wet day: Students wading through floodwaters at SMK Mak Mandin in
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flyover at Sungai Nibong, Bayan Lepas. — MUSTAFA AHMAD/The Star and
social mediapic

 

 

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