Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who to blame for the frequent accidents: the Transport Ministry, bus companies or drivers...?

Driving them to crazy!

PETALING JAYA: Express bus operators say they are being held to ransom by their own drivers, who are allegedly exploiting a driver shortage in the industry to escape punishment for dangerous driving.

An operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Star that one of his drivers sabotaged his bus after being reprimanded for speeding two weeks ago.

“We called him up and asked why he was driving very fast. He replied: ‘Hey, the steering is in my hands, I do what I like. You think I’m afraid (of you)?’

“Then he took the bus somewhere and poured sand into the engine,” said the operator.

He said although a police report was lodged, no action was taken against the driver, who quit for another company.

Relating another case, the operator said a driver who was ticked off for speeding, threatened to walk away and leave his passengers by the roadside.

The operator experienced a high turnover of bus speed monitors, saying they would quit when verbally abused by the drivers.

“We employ women (for this) because they’re more soft-spoken. But many resign after a month or two because the drivers used vulgar words when scolding them,” he said.

Another operator, who also declined to be named, said he also came across drivers who dictated terms to their employers.

“They don’t say it to my face but they have told my other drivers they don’t care if I take action against them,” he said, adding not all drivers were bad but the ones giving the industry a bad name could not be booted out because operators needed any driver they could get their hands on.

Suggestions by the industry to fill this shortage with foreign drivers, even temporarily, were rejected by the Government, he said.

He said increasing wages to woo better drivers was also difficult, saying bus fares had not gone up since 2009 despite a rise in operational costs.

Pan Malaysian Bus Operators Association (PMBOA) president Datuk Ashfar Ali declined to comment on the issue of errant bus drivers.

He confirmed, however, the industry was experiencing a driver shortage, adding: “The Government has to ensure a constant supply of drivers into the market.

“All these safety measures cost money. We urge passengers to be prepared to pay higher fares.”

Ashfar said the authorities had to urgently implement the 51 recommendations of an independent advisory panel to prevent fatal bus accidents.

Contributed by Patrick Lee The Star/Asia News Netwrk

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Malaysian Transport authorities taken to task

PETALING JAYA: The authorities in charge of road transport were taken to task for failing to introduce any meaningful improvements to safety, in particular among express buses.

National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health chairman, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, expressed his disappointment with the authorities over their failure to implement the 51 recommendations of an indepen­dent advisory panel to prevent fatal accidents involving buses.

“If only some if not all of the re­­commendations had been implemented, we would not have to continue reading stories of fatal bus accidents in the papers,” he said when contacted by The Star yesterday.

Following the recent spate of deadly bus accidents in the past few years, Lee was made chair of the advisory panel set up to review and recommend improvements to this critical service.

He said it was sad if the efforts of the panel consisting of experts in various fields such as road and bus design, went to waste.

“Enough has been said about the issue with sufficient feedback and suggestions put forward,” he said.

Lee called on the authorities such as the Road Safety Department (JKJR), Puspakom, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) and bus operators to begin implemen­ting the recommendations before the next accident occurs.

Federation of Malaysia Consumers Association (Fomca) secretary-ge­neral Datuk Paul Selvaraj said SPAD should review its function following its seeming inaction.

“SPAD has to be held accountable simply because they are the regulators of public transport in the country.>

“They should take important steps now even if it is going to be unpopular with bus operators because the fate of the consumers should be put first above all,” he said.

On Sunday, a double-decker ex­­press bus plunged down a slope along the Kuantan-Segamat trunk road causing the death of a passenger.

The bus was carrying about 40 people when it crashed near the Sungai Jernih plantation at around 4.40pm.

This was the third incident invol­ving an express bus in Pahang over the past eight days.>

An Etika Express bus crashed into a road divider on the East Coast Expressway and flipped over on Saturday, leaving most of its 28 passengers injured.

On April 12, a Transnasional double-decker bus hit an electric pole and overturned in Bentong, killing three passengers.

However, SPAD has warned that quick suspension of bus operators for infractions such as fatal bus ac­cidents may lead to passengers stranded at bus terminals.

“If I suspend operators, the people will not have any transportation. I think we’ll have to find a way, but we will see whether the suspension will work or not,” said SPAD chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar.

Syed Hamid added that bus licen­ces and, in turn, their drivers come under the Public Service Vehicle ca­tegory, which were not managed by SPAD, but by the Road Transport Department (JPJ).

He added that in principle, autho­rities such as JPJ and the police could conduct checks at all of the country’s bus terminals, though this would be a difficult thing to do in practice.

He also advised bus drivers who felt like they were being forced to work to report these instances to the Human Resources Ministry.

Sources: The Star/Asia News Network

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Punish "currency manipulators", among TPPA issues in Obama's trips to Asia?

The United States President visit to Malaysia is an opportunity to review TPPA issues, including a Congress proposal to punish countries that are 'currency manipulators.

UNITED States President Barack Obama will be in Malaysia soon. Among the issues on his agenda will be the current status of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

It is an opportunity to clarify with the President himself what the chances are that the TPPA will be approved by Congress, once a deal is reached.

Of concern is that the Congress will only pass the TPPA if it has a clause disciplining countries that are “currency manipulators”.

This concern is especially serious since a recent influential report cited Malaysia as one of the two TPPA countries that qualified as “currency manipulators.”

As Obama will be coming from Tokyo, he will presumably share the latest news on the US-Japan negotiations, which have been a major blockage to the TPPA’s progress.

Japan does not want to fully open up five “sacred” farm products (rice, wheat, sugar, beef and pork and dairy products) under the TPPA, but could reach a private deal allowing the US to sell more to Japan by enabling a certain volume of American products to enter at zero or lower tariffs.

Whether such a bilateral deal (reported last week in a Japanese newspaper) will be at the expense of other TPPA members should of course be analysed and be part of the negotiations.

If the US and Japan reach an agreement, the TPPA talks are expected to be “unblocked” and countries will be under pressure to quickly reach an overall deal on all issues.

Obama can then be expected to nudge Malaysia to go forward. But Malaysia has found that there are several problems to a quick deal.

Last week, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed briefed civil society groups, reportedly telling them that Malaysia is standing firm in its position on tobacco control, intellectual property and medicines, disciplines on state-owned enterprises and government procurement, investor-state dispute, bumiputra rights, and that the TPPA should not affect the Constitution nor federal-state relations.

There is another important matter. What if the US agrees to a final TPPA deal. Can it stand by such a deal, since it is Congress that has jurisdiction over trade policy?

Obama is trying to get “fast track authority” from Congress, but many members of the House and Senate do not want to give that to him.

This means the Congress can decide to alter parts of the TPPA, and what was agreed to after years of painful negotiation will then unravel.

Why then should the other countries table their “bottom line” in the TPPA when what is agreed to can be opened up again by Congress? Senior officials in some countries have said they won’t agree to sign the TPPA unless the US President obtains fast-track authority.

Powerful Congress members have also proposed that as part of the TPPA, the US be allowed to punish countries that manipulate their currency — to give themselves a trade advantage.

Claiming to be backed by a clear majority, they are insisting that the TPPA contain disciplinary actions against currency manipulators, including that tariffs can be raised against the offending countries’ products.

Inside US Trade reported that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat House Member Sander Levin warned they would vote against the TPPA when it comes before them unless it contains enforceable provisions to combat currency manipulation by foreign governments.

A major problem with this Congress’ proposal is how “currency manipulators” are defined. Many developing countries consider the US itself to be a manipulator because the trillions of dollars it has placed in the banking system through its easy-money policy has depressed the value of the dollar to remain at low levels and raised the country’s export competitiveness.

But that’s not how the Americans define manipulation. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute, a main intellectual force behind the Congress move, proposes three tests to determine a currency manipulator: the country possess excessive official foreign currency assets (more than six months of import value); it has acquired significant additional amounts of official foreign assets, implying substantial intervention, over a recent period of six months; and it has a substantial current account surplus.

Based on these criteria, Bergsten concludes, in a Financial Times article, that: “Only two countries now involved in the trade pact negotiations – Malaysia and Singapore – have been recent manipulators.”

He proposes that those who fail these tests should face stiff penalties: They should lose the wider market access obtained via the TPPA; countervailing duties should be permitted against their exports subsidised by deliberate undervaluation; and “sweeping import surcharges” could also be authorised.

On top of this, the trade pact should also authorise “countervailing currency intervention”, through which it could offset the manipulators’ purchases of its currency by buying equal amounts of theirs.

Bergsten’s ideas are extreme, but they have been cited by Congressman Levin when he made his proposal.

Can the TPPA countries agree to having a currency manipulation chapter in the agreement? If so, the TPPA will contain a very dangerous element and it will also set a dangerous precedent for other future agreements.

In any case, it is worthwhile for Malaysia to pay close attention to this issue, and bring it up with Obama, since it is one of the two countries fingered by Bergsten as being “currency manipulators.”

Bergsten’s astounding charge that Malaysia is a currency manipulator should also be answered.

Contributed by Global Trends by Martin Khor

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Karpal Singh: Bye-bye, Jangan main-main/Don't fool around !

Standing his ground:Karpal telling the Speaker: “I have a right to be here” as the police wait to escort him out in May 1981.  Images for Karpal Singh images

Tributes for Karpal Singh's Quotes:

“Jangan main-main” – a catchphrase of sorts for the statesman, Karpal Singh said this on many occasions – to the Registrar of Societies when his beloved party was faced with the threat of deregistration, after being sent live bullets by thugs.

“The tiger is still alive and ... a wounded tiger is even more dangerous.” – Karpal in April 1995 after DAP was defeated in Penang. The then-state chairman said the defeat did not mean the end of the opposition in Penang.

“I know what it is like to lose your liberties. So I want to go on being in Parliament as long as I can.” – Karpal in 1995, when asked about his determination during the general elections campaign period.

“For there to be integration in essence and spirit, I hope all restrictions in the way of uniting the people are removed.” – Karpal in June 1995, welcoming the move to integrate the legal systems of Sabah, Sarawak and West Malaysia.

“Offences perpetrated upon children, particularly infants, are the most heinous of offences because children are defenceless against such attacks.” Despite his dislike of capital punishment, Karpal felt that those who committed crimes against children deserved harsh sentences.

“Singh is King.” A reference to a popular Bollywood movie with the same catchphrase, Karpal used the line several times including after he received live bullets in the mail (prefaced with “jangan main-main”).

“I do not intend to give up. The Opposition has a big role to play in this country.” – Karpal after his accident in 2005 which left him in a wheelchair.

“There are always people who are insensitive, we just have to take it. There is nothing you can do about it. We cannot be discouraged, as that’s exactly what our enemies would want.” – Karpal in a Sept 2006 interview with The Star.

“Once you are in this situation, you realise how little the disabled have in this country. Governments in many countries make lots of allowances to include them in society. We haven’t reached that stage. I will do what I can to make sure the disabled are given all opportunities in line with other countries.” – Karpal in 2006, commenting on the lack of disabled-friendly infrastructure and legislation in Malaysia.

“We may have our differences with PAS but it is a solid, principled party and an important ally.” – Karpal in 2012. “My parents wanted me to be a doctor but I would have been a lousy doctor!” – Karpal in a 2010 interview with The Star.

“I am not questioning the privileges. I am asking how long they will be implemented.” – Karpal in 2010, asking the Government for a time frame for the gradual removal of special privileges accorded to Malays and other bumiputras, in the spirit of 1Malaysia.

“As long as I am alive, I will continue to struggle to see a non-Malay become prime minister.” – Karpal in 2012, saying the Federal Constitution did not provide that only Malays could be prime minister.



Sources: The Star/Asia News Network
  • For more stories click here.
Infographics:
Tiger, tiger who burned bright
Karpal the politician
Karpal the lawyer

Photo Gallery:
Old days of Karpal
About Karpal
From hospital to his home

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

WWII 'slaves' sue Japan firms

About 700 people who were forced to work in Japan during World War II filed a lawsuit in east China's Shandong Province on Tuesday, demanding both an apology and compensation from two China-based Japanese companies.

more Images for Japanese WWII forced labour

LiveLeak.com - Chinese sue Japanese companies over slave labor in WWII, asking for 1 million yuan compensation per person

Four representatives on behalf of the former laborers signed a letter, authorizing a legal aid team to file the lawsuit at Shandong Higher People's Court.

Mitsubishi Corporation (Qingdao) Ltd. and Yantai Mitsubishi Cement Co., Ltd., which are accused of forcing laborers from Shandong to Japan to work during the war, are being sued 1 million yuan (160,700 US dollars) per victim in compensation. The laborers also want a written apology published in major newspapers in China, said Fu Qiang, executive head of the legal aid team and head of Shandong Pengfei Law Office.

Fu said the two Mitsubishi companies are not directly connected but affiliated to the original perpetrator, Mitsubishi Materials Corp in Japan.

"The two companies are foreign-owned enterprises in China, and subject to Chinese law," said Fu.

This is the second time the laborers have brought a compliant to court. In September 2010, six laborers, on behalf of 1,000 Chinese from Shandong, brought a lawsuit against the two companies. The court refused to accept the case.

Around 40,000 Chinese, one-fourth of whom were from Shandong, were forced to work in Japan during the war. Of these workers, 7,000 died in Japan. Thirty-five Japanese companies are believed to have been involved in forced labor from 1937 to 1945, when Japan invaded China.

Quoting government figures, Wang Wanying, one of the four representatives and son of a victim, said out of 1,500 laborers brought to Japan from Shandong's Yuncheng County, only 130 people returned home alive.

"My father was lucky enough to survive," said 55-year-old Wang. "We will carry on to seek justice," he said.

Japanese courts have rejected all compensation claims in 15 lawsuits filed by forced Chinese laborers since the 1990s, saying that a 1972 bilateral agreement nullified Chinese rights to seek war-related compensation.

However, former Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, said in March 1995 that although China had discarded national reparations, the government did not abandon its people's rights to demand compensation.

On March 26, nine former laborers filed a lawsuit against Coke Industry Co., Ltd. of Japan, Mitsubishi Materials Corporation and the Japanese government at Tangshan City Intermediate People's Court. They are requesting compensation. A decision to accept the case has not been made yet.

On March 18, the Beijing Intermediate People's Court accepted a lawsuit against Coke Industry Co., Ltd. of Japan and Mitsubishi Materials Corporation over the matter, the first such case to be accepted in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Japan should seriously address issues of forced labor, take a responsible attitude and seriously treat and properly handle the issues left over from history. - Xinhua

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Malaysia paying the price for flight MH370 !

Flight MH370: Paying The Price Of 6 Decades Of Nepotism, Racism, Rampant Corruption And Incompetence

On January 23, 2008 a very peculiar thing happened. Commercial airspace at one of the world's busiest airports was shut down for over 50 minutes. On that day, an aircraft without an approved flight plan entered Singapore's airspace. Immediately, the Republic of Singapore Air Force dispatched a pair of F-16D fighter jets to intercept the aircraft and escorted it to land at Singapore Changi Airport. Upon landing, airport police immediately surrounded the plane.

"At 6.42pm (2142 AEDT), two Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-16 fighters were scrambled to intercept a civilian aircraft, a Cessna 208, which was heading towards Singapore airspace without an approved flight plan,'' the ministry's director of public affairs, Colonel Darius Lim, said in a statement. "The aircraft was escorted to land at Singapore Changi Airport."

The above incident highlights the standard operating protocol an Air Force, Civil Aviation Authority and Local Police Force needs to follow in the event of an unidentified aircraft entering it's airspace without an approved flight plan.

However amidst this hoo-ha, there was one small detail worth noting. The plane took off from Koh Samui, Thailand. And running the full length between Thailand and Singapore is the land mass of Peninsular Malaysia.

In essence, this means that the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia and the Royal Malaysian Air Force had allowed an unknown aircraft to invade over 131 thousand square km of sovereign Malaysian territory and despite this occurring over a period of 3 hours, did not lift a finger to respond.

This incident highlighted a huge security flaw in Malaysia's Air Defence umbrella. One that if it had patched during any of the subsequent 6 years that followed, would have prevented a bigger tragedy that came with greater embarrassment, scrutiny and loss.

6 years later on 8 March 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing. It never landed at its intended destination. Instead, less than an hour after take-off, the transponder was turned off and 3 sets of military radars tracked the plane flying past Penang and across the breadth of Malaysia from the Gulf of Thailand towards the Indian Ocean.

Unlike the Cessna airplane in the earlier example which was intercepted by the RSAF, 3 sets of people manning Malaysia's military radars never sounded any alarms. The RMAF never dispatched any fighter jets on standby and the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia never shut down Malaysian airspace when a rogue plane very much larger than a Cessna aircraft flew across it's airspace.

Suffice to say, had the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia or the RMAF been doing their job properly as exemplified by the example given above, we would not have gone 9 days and counting into a search for a missing and possibly hijacked plane.

Investigators may have recently concluded that the plane had its transponders deliberately turned off and its flight plan deliberately altered but it is the greater observing public who have the biggest conclusion of all; that Malaysian leadership is sorely incompetent when it comes to handling a crisis. In this respect, Malaysia has much to learn from its Southern neighbour. Had the supposed hijackers targeted a plane flying through a more efficient jurisdiction, the outcome would have been very different today.

  Malaysia Flip Flop

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    Monday, April 14, 2014

    Bitcoin: cryptocurrency rising, money talks, mining boom sputters


    The Internet has spawned a new form of currency that’s purely digital called Bitcoin. 

    Picture this — a high speed car chase with a slew of journalists trying to keep up with a celebrity as they hound him around Los Angeles, California.

    The only problem is that inside the lead car isn’t Brad Pitt or even Christian Bale, but a rather unassuming 64-year-old man of Japanese descent named Dorian Nakamoto.

    The car chase started when Newsweek claimed in an article that he was the mysterious ­creator of Bitcoin who goes under the ­pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, after which a slew of journalists flocked to his home for comment.

    Whether he is indeed the fabled founder is still unclear but the media storm revolving around Bitcoin’s creator is a sign of how much interest it’s generating in technology circles.

    In this article we take a look at the concept of Bitcoin and how this so-called cryptocurrency works.

    Real world, virtual ­currency 

    Today, currency or money is produced by the national banks of each country and is accepted as legal tender to be exchanged for goods or services. While we take it for granted, currency is a pretty abstract concept made real by a few pieces of paper and metal which we can exchange for products that have value to us.

    It used to be that countries like the United States backed up its ­currency with gold reserves but since 1971 this is no longer the case and now its value is determined by governmental regulation or law. This form of money is also known as fiat currency.


    CRYPTOCURRENCY:  A strange revolution on the Net has started a form of currency known as Bitcoin.

    Then we have credit cards and online payment gateways like Paypal which make it possible to conduct a transaction without ­actually exchanging hard cash.

    However, when you drill down to it, the system is always based on currency produced by the national banks.

    Over the past few years, though, a strange revolution on the Net has started a form of currency known as Bitcoin, ­created by private ­individuals ­without national bank or ­government involvement.

    In fact, the actual creator of Bitcoin itself has been shrouded in mystery — although credited to Satoshi Nakamoto, the name is believed to be a pseudonym and while a few individuals have been identified, none have been definitively proven to be the elusive ­creator.

    V for volatility 

    Being digital, Bitcoin itself has no built-in intrinsic value, except what its users assign to it. As such, the price of Bitcoin can vary quite a bit.

    As a sign perhaps that the ­currency is gaining more ­acceptance, the value of Bitcoin has gone up in the last few years — today, the price of a single Bitcoin hovers at around RM1,300, although it has gone up as high as RM5,000.


    VALUABLE: Today, the price of a single Bitcoin hovers at around RM1,300, although it has gone up as high as RM5,000. — AFP

    When it first started, a single Bitcoin was worth very little, and slowly rose to US$1 (about RM3.10) and finally to its current value.

    However, if you’re thinking of buying Bitcoin as a form of investment, do be aware that the sheer volatility of Bitcoin does mean that your virtual currency could be worth nothing in the future, or it could be worth a lot.

    Is it legal?

    This is perhaps the crux of the matter — is Bitcoin legal or illegal?

    So far, Bitcoin itself is not illegal and in most countries, there are no restrictions to its use amongst ­parties who accept it as currency.

    However, some countries have moved to limit the use of Bitcoin. China, for example, does not allow financial institutions to deal with Bitcoin.


    LEGAL TENDER?: A shop in Hong Kong. Some countries have moved to limit the use of Bitcoin. China, for example, does not allow financial institutions to deal with Bitcoin. — AFP

    The situation is similar here and Bank Negara has released a short official statement on Bitcoin in January, stating that “... Bitcoin is not recognised as legal tender in Malaysia. The Central Bank does not regulate the operations of Bitcoin. The public is therefore advised to be cautious of the risks associated with the usage of such digital currency.”

    Last month, The Star ran a story on the dangers of Bitcoin (Be wary of virtual money, M’sians told) but the currency is still widely used in ­technology circles. According to Nook Malaysia chief executive Daniel Yap, the fact that it is not “legal tender” does not make its use a crime. It simply means that Bitcoin is not regulated by Bank Negara and thus will not be recognised by any bank or financial institution in this country as legal tender.

    However, it is not illegal for ­private businesses and users to deal in Bitcoin and Nook Malaysia is one of the local companies that accepts Bitcoin.

    According to Yap, even if the government moved to ban Bitcoin use, it would be difficult to stop private individuals from dealing in it.

    What is Bitcoin?

    Bitcoin as a concept is simple — it’s essentially digital currency. Dig deeper into the concept, however, and it gets fairly complicated.

    Bitcoin (or BTC which is also the symbol used for the currency) is defined as a form of ­cryptocurrency that utilises peer-to-peer ­transactions, a decentralised system where users across the Internet handle the payment network ­without a central authority or any kind of middlemen.

    Users can make transactions and get paid in Bitcoin almost immediately, much like how it works with more conventional systems like PayPal.

    However, where it differs is that because Bitcoin transactions are managed by a peer-to-peer system without various companies (such as your credit card company or PayPal) taking a “cut” of the money, the transaction charge for dealing in Bitcoin is either nil or a lot lower.

    As the transactions are processed by machines on the peer-to-peer network, the “peers” within the network actually receive the ­transaction fee if there is one. This means that transaction fees are received by the community itself instead of a third party.

    As for security, users on peer-to-peer network who run the full Bitcoin client have a copy of a virtual ledger called the “block chain” — this contains a list of every Bitcoin transaction ever processed.

    The authenticity of each ­transaction in this ledger is ­authenticated by digital signatures and as every person running the full Bitcoin client has a copy of it, the transactions are also checked against others in the network.

    As you may well imagine, the block chain is quite large and ­getting larger every day — last we checked, it was about 14GB in size.

    Get started

    Using Bitcoin to pay for goods and services is actually easier than trying to explain it. To get started, all a user needs is to install the ­wallet application, which is ­available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and even Android.

    At its most basic, the wallet app allows users to send and receive Bitcoin currency. While you can run a dedicated application on your PC to send and receive Bitcoins, some sites like Blockchain.info also allow you to perform transactions using a simple web browser.


    [VIRTUAL MONEY: A digital wallet used to store Bitcoins is displayed at a Bitcoin conference on at the Javits Center in New York City. — AFP

    To be clear, sites like Blockchain.info are not “online banks” and do not actually keep your Bitcoin ­currency — they simply make ­transactions more convenient.

    Android smartphone users can download the Blockchain app for sending and receiving Bitcoin ­currency, but due to Apple’s ­restrictions, there is no such app on iOS.

    To receive money, every person gets a public address, which is a long string of letters and numbers. For convenience, this string of ­letters and numbers can also be represented by a QR code, which can be scanned by smartphones with a Bitcoin app.

    This public address allows other users to deposit money into your account but not take money out from it.

    The current value of a ­single Bitcoin is hovering at about RM1,300, which is probably too large to pay for most goods or ­services. However, it is possible to send a fraction of a Bitcoin — ­currently, a single Bitcoin can be split up into a fraction of up to a million, so you can send it in much smaller denominations.


    A Numoni Bitcoin Automatic Vending Machine

    Once you install the wallet application, you can actually get bitcoins either by receiving it from other users, or buying it from an “exchange” or simply mining for it.

    An exchange is an online ­company that will sell you Bitcoins for real money. A relatively new development in this country is the so-called Bictoin AVM (automatic vending machines), where you trade real cash for Bitcoin.

    When we first started writing this story, there were two Bitcoin AVMs — one in Bangsar Shopping Complex in Kuala Lumpur and another in Gurney Plaza, Penang. There is also a local website at ­cryptomarket.my which sells Bitcoin Scratch Cards of various denominations similar to mobile phone credit top ups.

    Private address

    Every Bitcoin wallet app has what is called a private address which is similar to your public address in that it’s also represented by a long string of letters and numbers. This private address is essentially the key to unlocking your wallet and allows you to send out Bitcoin currency to others.

    Most Bitcoin wallet apps hide your private address from you since it’s not necessary to know it to send or receive Bitcoin.

    However, most wallet apps allow you to “backup” this private address by printing it out or writing it down to be stored in a safe place.

    It’s important to never reveal your private address, as this ­represents your actual wallet. Anybody who knows your private address can effectively take control of your ­wallet and transfer all your Bitcoin out of it into their own ­wallet.

    Mining for more

    Mining is the term used to refer to machines that run special software to “mine” for bitcoins. Although the term mining is used, what a machine that runs the ­mining ­software ­actually does is process ­transactions and secure the network, as well as keep everyone in the Bitcoin ­network ­synchronised.

    Processing of transactions and securing the network involves a ­highly secure and complicated encryption system and as such requires pretty hefty computing power.

    In the early days of Bitcoin, ­individual users could easily use a PC to mine for Bitcoins. But as more Bitcoins have surfaced, the system, by design, has become more ­complicated and requires specialised machines running powerful ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) chips.

    As such, a number of companies have sprung up around the world that run specialised machines ­dedicated to mining for Bitcoins.

    As an incentive for contributing to the system, Bitcoin miners get a twofold reward — first, in the form of transaction fees, and second, the system itself can reward miners by producing new Bitcoins.


    NOT EASY TO MINE: Bitcoin mining hardware — each specialised ASIC-based mining machine is equivalent to 180 PCs! — AFP

    Don’t expect to be able to easily mine for Bitcoins using a regular PC — each specialised ASIC-based ­mining machine is equivalent to 180 PCs with powerful graphic chips installed and as such, using a regular PC for mining could take years to yield any Bitcoins.

    Regular users who still want to try mining for Bitcoins can band together to share computing power over a network by joining what’s called a “mining pool”. If you’re interested in mining for Bitcoins check out www.bitcoinmining.com.

    Future of Bitcoin

    In many ways, Bitcoin is still in its infancy with many countries ­taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether to accept as legal tender.

    This lack of regulation also means that there is effectively no enforcement when there is theft — while there are ways to trace the perpetrators, there is no way to force Bitcoin thieves to return what they’ve stolen.

    Money Talks

    There are hundreds of ­vendors across the world that accept Bitcoin as a valid form of ­currency in exchange for goods and services.

    While Bitcoin acceptance has grown in many neighbouring countries, including Singapore and Thailand, according to coinmap.org, which keeps a list of worldwide businesses that accept Bitcoin, only three businesses in Malaysia currently accept Bitcoin as a form of payment. The three are The Nook Bangsar (nook.my), Ked.ai (ked.ai) and Footsteps (www.footsteps.com.my).

    Daniel Yap started accepting Bitcoins as a
    Daniel Yap started accepting Bitcoins as a "social experiment" since November, to help encourage its use in this country.

    The chief executive officer of Nook Malaysia, Daniel Yap, says he started accepting Bitcoins as a “social experiment” since November. Yap, who operates a co-working space in Bangsar, started to accept Bitcoin to help encourage its use in this country.

    “If you don’t encourage people to use it, then it will never be adopted,” he said

    “Bitcoin may not be the ­ultimate form of ­cryptocurrency or decentralised currency, but it’s certainly the most well known. But the whole ­movement is beyond Bitcoin, as it’s about going towards unregulated ­currency,” he said.

    Right now, though, the ­percentage of customers who pay via Bitcoin for Nook’s co-working space is very small, according to Yap, and it’s mostly foreigners.

    Muaaz Mohamad Nor, owner of Footsteps who operates kayak tours and sells outdoor gear, says that the number of customers who pay via Bitcoin are similarly small, although in his case, they’re mostly Malaysians.

    “My opinion is that there are three factors that affect Bitcoin adoption — education, Internet access and desperation,” said Muaaz.

    Muaaz Mohamad Nor says that accepting Bitcoin is better for a 'mom-and-pop' style shop like his.
    Muaaz Mohamad Nor says that accepting Bitcoin is better for a 'mom-and-pop' style shop like his.

    Muaaz explains that in countries where the first two criteria are met, weak currency will usually push people to start adopting Bitcoin as a form of currency.

    “The practical reason for me to start accepting Bitcoin is that it’s relatively low-cost for mom and pop shops like mine, and in the wider view, I like the idea of an alternative to fiat currency,” he said.

    Unlike fiat currency, which derives its value from goverment regulation or law, Bitcoin’s value is determined by its users and the value they place on the ­currency.

    “If you look at the value of Bitcoin, it suffered three major crashes over the years but its value has quickly risen again. You can’t say that about most other currency crashes,” he said.

    According to Muaaz, he used to own some 5,000 Bitcoins which he bought for just five euros in 2007 when he was studying and living in Germany.

    “Back then it was hip to pay for stuff using Bitcoin,” he said. When asked about how much of those 5,000 Bitcoins he still holds, Muaaz laughs and said, “None of it!” At current exchange rates, if he had held on it would be worth some RM6.35mil.

    However, both Muaaz and Yap have opted to hold on to the Bitcoins they’ve obtained from their businesses rather than ­convert it to cash.

    Bitcoin business: Arsyan Ismail says that he likes Bitcoin because of the decentralised, open and instantaneous nature of the cryptocurrency.
    Arsyan Ismail says that he likes Bitcoin because of the decentralised, open and instantaneous nature of the cryptocurrency.

    Arsyan Ismail, chief excutive officer of 1337 Tech Sdn Bhd and creator of. Ked.ai, an online ­marketplace that also accepts Bitcoin, says that he likes it because of the decentralised, open and instantaneous nature of the cryptocurrency.

    Currently, Arsyan enables merchants who sell products on Ked.ai to accept Bitcoin and will convert it to cash for them automatically. However, like the other local online retailers, ­payments made with Bitcoin on Ked.ai still amounts to a very small ­percentage.

    Arsyan says the biggest hurdle to Bitcoin acceptance is that most people find it very hard to understand the concept, and there are no local exchanges for buying and selling Bitcoin.

    “What I’ve seen in Malaysia is that there are two sides — a community of miners who have Bitcoins but don’t know where to sell it, and on the other side, a group who wants to buy Bitcoin but don’t know where to get it,” he said.

    The function of Bitcoin exchanges is to bring these two groups together but without an official one the flow of Bitcoins from miners to buyers is a little more complicated, he said.

    Contributed by Tan Kit Hoong The Star/Asia News Network

    Bitcoin Mining Boom Sputters as Prospectors Face Losses 

    Portland: The bitcoin mining rush is sputtering.

    Speculators, known as miners, use powerful computers to solve complex software problems and verify transactions to unlock new bitcoins. They’re finding that the enterprise isn’t as profitable as it once was.

    Drawn by the virtual currency’s jump in value last year, digital prospectors have turned the mining industry into an arms race as they buy expensive computing equipment and gobble up electricity. While that worked well as long as bitcoin’s value kept rising, smaller players are now being crowded out by bigger competition, high utility bills and declining prices.

    “If you mine at the moment, you have to be very lucky to get anything,” said Mehmet Vatansever, who bought $16,000 worth of mining computers in February to chase after new bitcoins. “It’s a very difficult business.”

    Mining, a nod to the excavation of minerals and metal ore, is entirely digital and part of bitcoin’s design, so that the money self-regulates supply and prevents out-of-control inflation. The mining process gets increasingly complicated as more bitcoins are created, driving demand for computing power.

    Bitcoins, which jumped to more than $1,200 last year from $12, were trading at about $420 apiece yesterday, according to the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index, an average of prices across major global exchanges. China’s tighter controls on alternative currencies, the implosion of the Mt.Gox exchange and a U.S. Internal Revenue Service ruling that bitcoins should be taxed as a property have all weighed on the virtual currency.

    Used Equipment

    While he has been able to create new bitcoins, Vatansever soon discovered that his equipment was on track to earn less than his monthly utility bill of $480. After selling his computers on EBay Inc. in April, Vatansever estimates that he lost a total of about $6,000 on his mining adventure.

    In the past week, miners made $14.9 million in revenue, compared with a weekly average of $25.2 million in December, according to Blockchain.info, a bitcoin-data aggregator. The figures represent the number of bitcoins mined plus transaction fees, multiplied by the dollar-based market price.

    EBay now features more than 1,600 listings for mining computers, many of them used.

    “The mining market has evolved from being mostly isolated ventures to more organized entrepreneurial ventures that are still racing to get an edge with increasingly fast equipment and lower electricity costs,” Gil Luria, an analyst at Wedbush Securities Inc., said in an interview. “At this point, the opportunity for individual miners is very small.”

    Big Miners

    While individuals give up prospecting, at least two other larger mining companies, KnCMiner and Cloud Hashing, are still generating profits. By scaling up operations, they’ve been able to save costs on cooling and power, making their computers more efficient and cost-effective. KnCMiner also sells mining computers to other miners.

    KnCMiner, based in Stockholm, operates about 7,000 machines. While the mining company’s electric bill in March came to $450,000, the computers mined 21,000 bitcoins, according to co-founder Sam Cole.

    Cloud Hashing, which lets people buy computing capacity in its data center and share in profits, mines about $230,000 to $260,000 worth of bitcoins a day, according to Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Abiodun.

    “We are profitable whether we sell contracts or not -- through mining,” Abiodun said in an interview. “Our business model can handle volatility in pricing.”

    Sales Shift

    Mining-equipment suppliers are feeling the cool-down firsthand. CoinTerra Inc., a manufacturer of the powerful computers used to crunch numbers for new bitcoins, has seen new sales shrink by 30 percent in the past three weeks from the preceding period, according to CEO Ravi Iyengar.

    Mining-equipment suppliers are also detecting early signs of a shift to new virtual currencies. Approximately 250 KnCMiner customers switched their orders from $10,000 computers to similarly priced alternative-currency mining machines in the past three weeks, according to Cole.

    Because they are newer, designed differently and currently mined by fewer people, currencies such as Litecoin can be more profitable, according to CoinWarz, which tracks mining activity.

    “The new rush right now is Litecoin,” Colin Lusk, a network engineer in Portland, Oregon, said in an interview.

    While he once mined only bitcoins, Lusk now uses five of his eight machines to produce Litecoins and other virtual currencies. Created in 2011, Litecoin is similar in design to bitcoin yet requires less computing power.

    A $3,500 computer can produce $25 worth of Litecoins a day for $3 in electricity, while producing $20 worth of bitcoins would cost $17, Lusk said.

    Math Problem

    Andrew Korb, another miner, said buying bitcoins outright is easier than participating in the mining arms race. While Korb and fellow investors have spent 900 bitcoins on mining equipment since last year, they have only generated 77 units of the virtual currency, he said.
    “People do the math,” said CoinTerra’s Iyengar. “If the price goes down significantly, people realize they may be better off buying bitcoins directly from an exchange rather than buying machines.” 

    Contributed by 


    Sunday, April 13, 2014

    New kid on the block: Singapore's 'shoebox king' Oxley spices up Kuala Lumpur a record RM3,300 per sq ft

    IN just 10 months, Singapore-listed Oxley Holdings Ltd has quietly amassed a gross development value (GDV) of close to RM10bil in Malaysia.

    That’s RM1bil for every month since it first bought land in Kuala Lumpur last May – a tough act to follow even for the most seasoned developer.

    And it isn’t stopping there.

    Known as the “shoebox king” in Singapore, Oxley has hired former Selangor State Development Corp (PKNS) general manager Datuk Othman Omar as CEO of its Malaysian operations, indicating its seriousness in making Malaysia a core market.

    Oxley now has on its plate 15 projects outside of Singapore – one in the UK, four in Cambodia, two in China and eight in Malaysia.

    Only a month into the job, Othman already has his hands full with enquiries from landowners for joint-ventures, as well as expressions of interest for properties that Oxley Malaysia is yet to launch.

    “Oxley has the brand name and database of buyers. However, we have to careful with whom we work with,” he tells StarBizWeek.

    “You’ll be surprised at how many land pockets there are in Kuala Lumpur. We must be selective with not just the location, but also the business model.”

    Othman, who studied civil engineering in Tasmania, had helmed PKNS for five years until his contract expired on Jan 31, injecting a much-needed private sector efficiency into the state-owned unit.

    Under his watch it even achieved a record profit in 2011 of RM420mil.

    He had had a stellar run in PKNS at least until the end of his term, when it became clear that he and Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim could no longer see eye-to-eye.

    Before his contract expired, Othman was removed as general manager and transferred to the state secretariat to facilitate an investigation over the controversial sacking of Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Azmin Ali as a PKNS board member.

    But all that is water under the bridge now for Othman. He looks eager to have work for his hands again, after taking a short break in February to perform the umrah.

    While he hesitates to delve into project details due to the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations, property sources say Oxley Malaysia’s landbank includes parcels on Jalan Ampang worth RM2.5bil-RM3bil, Jalan Hang Tuah (RM3bil), Section 16, Petaling Jaya (RM900mil), Beverly Heights in Ampang (RM900mil), Seputeh (RM120mil), Medini in Johor’s Iskandar Malaysia (RM1bil) and Fettes Road, Penang (RM1.5bil).

    More JVs with landowners are understood to be in the pipeline.

    Quick turnaround

    According to Othman, Oxley favours integrated developments and a “quick turnaround”.

    “The margins may not be as high (if turnaround is fast), but the banks love us because of our cashflow. That kind of velocity also reduces our finance and holding cost, and we don’t need to wait for years to realise the profits.

    “We are aiming for affordability – build it fast and sell it cheap.”

    Oxley made headlines here in November when it acquired a prized stretch of land along Jalan Ampang in Kuala Lumpur from the Loke Wan Yat estate for some RM450mil, or a record RM3,300 per sq ft.

    The project – which will comprise a mall, two luxury hotels, serviced residences, offices and a theme park – is a stone’s throw from KLCC and opposite from Corus Hotel.



    Big name investors such as Lembaga Tabung Haji, BlackRock, five-star hotel chains Jumeirah and Waldorf Astoria, and theme park operator Sanderson are speculated to have shown an interest in the development, industry executives say.

    On Jalan Hang Tuah, Oxley Malaysia is planning residences and a three- or four-star hotel with 350 rooms and retail space.

    The land, acquired by a local company in a government tender, is across the road from the Hang Tuah monorail and LRT stations.

    Oxley’s plot in Section 16 near the Phileo Damansara commercial complex could feature residences starting from RM650 per sq ft and some retail space to serve a proposed three- or four-star business hotel.

    Othman says he may delay sales for Robson Heights, an 80-unit premium dwelling in Seputeh in the vicinity of Mid Valley Megamall, given the current soft market conditions.

    Depending on the market, Oxley Malaysia could roll out the Jalan Ampang, Jalan Hang Tuah and Section 16 properties this year, he adds.

    “We’re already seeing strong interest in the Hang Tuah project from en bloc buyers. Some have offered to take up 50%. But we need to make sure they aren’t speculators,” Othman quips.

    This is a lot to handle for the new kid on the block. Can Othman take the heat?

    “Our competition is not the other developers,” he replies coolly. “It’s what we don’t know yet.”

    Former PKNS chief Othman now CEO of Oxley”

    PETALING JAYA: Barely a month after leaving the Selangor State Development Corp (PKNS), Datuk Othman Omar (pic) has been tapped by Singapore-listed developer Oxley Holdings Ltd to head its Malaysian operations as CEO, overseeing eight projects worth almost RM10bil in gross development value (GDV).

    According to a stock exchange filing last Friday, Othman, 54, was appointed CEO of Oxley’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Oxley Holdings (M) Sdn Bhd, on March 1.

    Othman, a civil engineer by training, had previously served as general manager of PKNS for five years until his contract expired on Jan 31.

    Oxley, which has a market capitalisation of S$2bil (RM5.22bil), was listed on Singapore’s Catalist Market in Oct 2010 before transferring to the Mainboard in February last year.

    The firm, better known for its shoebox apartments in Singapore, made headlines here in November when it bought a highly-coveted piece of land along Jalan Ampang from the Loke Wan Yat estate for some RM450mil, or a record RM3,300 per sq ft.

    Images for KLCC Wisma Central, Restaurant Chef Choi ...

    The prime freehold land, down the road from KLCC and sandwiched between Wisma Central and a Chinese temple, is currently occupied by Restaurant Chef Choi, Nasi Kandar Pelita and four bungalows.

    Property sources told StarBiz that Oxley’s estimated RM9bil-RM10bil portfolio in Malaysia included the Jalan Ampang project with a GDV of RM2.5bil, developments in Jalan Hang Tuah and Medini Iskandar worth RM3bil and RM1bil, respectively, and others in Selangor and Penang.

    Under Othman’s watch, PKNS implemented a full open tender system in 2010, which resulted in savings of RM100mil a year.

    He had also inked integrity pacts with PKNS’ vendors and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, even as he sought to inject private-sector efficiency into the otherwise staid government-linked corporation (GLC).

    But towards the end of his term, Othman fell out with Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim over the running of PKNS.

    Before his contract expired, Othman was also removed as general manager and transferred to the state secretariat to facilitate an investigation over the controversial sacking of Parti Keadilan Rakyat deputy president Azmin Ali as a PKNS board member.

    Still, sources close to Othman claim he had not been short on job offers from other GLCs and listed firms in Singapore and Malaysia.

    For the six months to Dec 31, 2013, Oxley saw its net profit surge 15 times to S$275.9mil (RM720.1mil) from S$18mil (RM46.98mil) in the same period a year ago, while revenue jumped 709% to S$888.2mil (RM2.32bil) from S$109.8mil (RM286.84mil) on progress billings for various developments in Singapore.

    Contributed by John Loh The Star/Asia News Network

    Related:
    •  Lot 99 sale creates buzz in real estate fraternity



    OXLEY TOWERS
    An artist’s impression of the Oxley Tower in Kuala Lumpur. The average launch price for its serviced apartments are expected to be around RM3,000 per sq ft.

    More images for KLCC Wisma Central, Restaurant Chef Choi, four bungalows