Thursday, January 30, 2003

Dr M speaks, targetting Singapore's men-in-the-street

I CAN'T imagine how the Singapore government's feeling will be like when they are given a dose of their own medicine for good neighbourly behaviour. Bureaucrats from the tiny red dot have always been behaving like an uberman in all their endeavours, They thought they could throw their weight around in any place. They thought they could never go wrong.

Yesterday, I blogged Singapore's "bare-all, tell-all" stance in deriding Malaysia via its clinically-sanitised press. I expected Dr Mahathir Mohamad to rebut on the water supply agreement and Batu Puteh issues at the first light of press opportunity. I look forward to some adrenalin-pumping remarks in his hallmark "staring-you-in-the-eyes" frankness. He is always that brutal when he deals with hard nuts the make of George Soros and the like.

And speak up Dr M did yesterday as I was winding down for the Lunar New Year celebration. Basically, Dr M rationalised that Singapore was just making a scapegoat of Malaysia to divert its populace's attention from its many internal problems. What he said was not meant for Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar's consumption alone. If all the Ah Bengs and Ah Lians in Singapore listen well, they should start triggering an implosion in the psyche of the island-state - for their own good.

Dr M said Singapore is in unprecedented economic dire straits with glaring negative growth and escalating unemployment rate. Investments made by most of its government-linked companies (GIC) have gone awry, notably in Enron, Virgin Airlines, Air New Zealand and in China. They lost Maersk and Evergreen to Tanjung Pelepas.

He said Singapore, unfortunately, would not allow its press to disclose this to their people and have the matter discussed in public. On the contrary, Straits Times Singapore today carried an illustrative story of the Mahathir interview.

How did Dr M feel when his private correspondence and diplomatic notes with Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong were made public in Singapore press?

"When you write a letter to your girlfriend and she circulates it to all her boyfriends, I don't think I will get along with that girlfriend at all," Dr M said.

Under such circumstances, I would think Singapore government's antiques would had made such correspondence almost impossible in the future. The trust and faith among statesmen are lost, and Singapore stands to suffer more. There is no guarantee that Singapore would not expose its correspondence with other government heads in the future.

Dr M's parting shots were not unlike most Malaysians: "They are afraid to lose as they have the kiasu (scared to lose) attitude... And when they lose, they don't know what to do."

Well said, but I can foreclose that it will also pave the way for aspiring politicians within UMNO Youth and deadwoods within Barisan Nasional to parrot the PM by playing to the gutter in deriding Singapore, rightly or wrongly.

Same syndrome. There are an equal lot of the kiasi (scared to die) in Malaysian politics who need all the attention to get considered as candidates in the next general election.

* * *

THE MEGA MERGER is no more. AOL Time Warner Inc. posted a 2002 net loss of nearly US$100 billion (RM380 billion) - the largest annual loss in US corporate history.

Bad tidings come in pairs, so does corporate turbulence. AOL-Time Warner largest individual share-holder, CNN founder Ted Turner, yesterday resigned as its vice chairman, taking effect by May. His views ignored in the boardroom, Turner is expected to fight it out from the sideline.

Two years ago, Turner, an anchor of the AOL-Time Warner merger, has described the corporate marriage "better than sex".

But in layman's term, how big is the AOL-Time Warner's loss, US$98.7 billion to be exact? It equals almost the total annual economic output of Ireland, and doubles the GDP of New Zealand.

* * *

WILL THE US and UK go it alone to wage war on Iraq?

So far, it's 4 "aye" vs. 11 "wait-a-minute" views among the 15-member UN Security Council. Countries supporting continued inspection: France, Russia, China (Three of the Super Five with veto power), Germany, Mexico, Chile, Fuinea, Cameroon, Syria, Angola and Pakistan.

Countries backing US and Britain: Bulgaria and Spain.

The scenario is expected to change soon as Bush promised war on Iraq to happen within weeks, while Cheney said 'survival of civilization' was at stake.

Cracks are developing in the Euro block. Leaders of eight European countries - Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Denmark and the Czech Republic - called on Europe to stand united with Washington. France and Germany are notably absent in the joint statement. Putin is also showing signs of softening from Russia's initial anti-war stance.

Well, the lure of oil is great and none of the war merchants are mortal saints.

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Wednesday, January 29, 2003

PM's Dept asks for The Petrof Letter

TUESDAY, an officer from the Prime Minister's Office called Malaysiakini and requested for a copy of The Petrof Letter which had led Umno Youth to lodge a police report claiming its content was seditious. The online newspaper responded by faxing the person three letters: the one written by Petrof o­n Jan 9 and two other preceding o­nes - ‘No apologies for the Malaysian way' (Jan 7) by Delimma and ‘Why PM why?' (Jan 3) by Manjit Bhatia.

I thought officials at the PM's Office could have just downloaded the letters from Malaysiakini's website. By right, they should have got them ready from the Intelligence and the police before the PM returned from overseas. Why wait for the fax?

* * *

UTUSAN Malaysia reports today that Commercial Crime Investigation Division at Bukit Aman has taken over the probe on the allegation lodged by Austrian businessman Franz Christoph Heldwein on Dr Ling Liong Sik and his former protege, Soh Chee Wen.

* * *

THE WAR of nerves between Singapore and Malaysia has escalated, and the island-state's argument has gone beyond Batu Puteh and the water issues. Straits Times Singapore published letters exchanged between Dr Mahathir and Lee Kwan Yew in a "bare all, tell all" stance. A new term - Albar-ism - has also emerged in Singapore press, for which bloggie/columnist Oon Yeoh classified as the verbal flip-flops of Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar.

Go to Oon's blog for a concise chronicle of how the tiny red dot takes aim at Dr M and his government.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Trustworthy Computing:
Microsoft fails to patch own software against worm.

HOWARD SCHMIDT, George Bush's No. 2 cyber-security adviser, assigned "collateral damage" status to the virus-like attack that crippled global Internet activity a few days ago. A simple request for bandwidth - but executed at a rate of billion packets per second - has affected ATM networks and operations at Boeing, and many others in between. "This is one of the things we've been talking about for a long time, getting a handle on interdependencies and cascading effects," Schmidt said.

Last night, I learned about a startling news as the world was recovering from the mass-scale DOS attack. Microsoft Corp itself was also hit by SQL Slammer worm, which targets a known vulnerability of Microsoft SQL Server 2000. The reason? Even Microsoft failed to install crucial fixes to its own software on many of its own servers!

This was first exposed by the Associated Press which obtained Microsoft's internal emails about the incident. The Register UK followed and published four of the most illuminating ones among a total of 18 emails.

The disclosure comes less than a week after Bill Gates celebrated Microsoft's 'Trustworthy Computing' initiative. Launched a year ago, Gates made security a top priority and Microsoft put thousands of its developers through security training to emphasise writing secure code, and hired a chief security officer to take full charge.

I believe SQL Slammer really spoils the party for Gates. One year on, the big question now seems to sound like this: Is Microsoft trustworthy? Security experts have pointed out a larger issue: Microsoft's process for keeping customers' software secure is hugely flawed.

We, the government, businesses and home users, must seek insulation and get a good alternative that is less costly - real fast!

* * *

TALK ABOUT alternative to Microsoft and I have a mouthful.

Last March, I represented PIKOM's Open Source Special Interest Group (PIKOM-OSSIG) to present a working paper to the CIOs from the government sector, sharing our experiences in tapping the potentials of Open Source software. The working paper was based on a whitepaper which Dr Nah Soo Hoe, Dinesh Nair, Hasannudin Saidin and I collaborated for submission to the government.

During the March CIO Conference, I spoke alongside KPMG Singapore and Microsoft Japan's representatives for our session chaired by Malaysia Administration Modernisation and Planning Unit (MAMPU) director general, Datuk Dr. Muhammad Rais bin Abdul Karim. We used a notebook running on Linux and Open Office programmes to show our slides. Many among the CIOs were amazed that we can live without Microsoft. We pushed the envelope further for Open Source when Hasannudin represented PIKOM-OSSIG to speak at Public Sector Linux / Open Source Software Seminar last September.

It was at the CIO conference I spoke, I recall, that I was first introduced to Gates' concept of 'Trustworthy Computing' as Microsoft's speaker spoke on the subject. I thought it was an appropriate topic since Microsoft software dominates the government's ICT set-up, and confidentiality and integrity of government computer networks cannot at all be compromised.

Personally, I started this lookout seriously since 1999 and the notion of sustainability and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) bothered me.

Strapped with limited financial resources, my team turned to Open Source to create a community-run portal, in 1999. Three years down the road, we have managed to build a thriving online community that has won two major ICT Awards neck-to-neck (for the Best e-Community category, and still an unbroken record in Malaysia). In 2002, the portal was included among The Edge's Top 88 Note-worthy websites. Apart from the countless manhours volunteered by the Subang Jaya community (80% of which are within the MSC boundary), we only spent a few thousand dollars in terms of TCO.

Today, we thumbed our nose at NITC's Dags grant and showed them that to spend RM1 million of taxpayers' money on just one e-community test-bedding project is shamefully unjustified.

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Monday, January 27, 2003

War or Peace? The world is unsure.
Kofi Annan pleads for more time; UN reacts to The Blix Report

LAST NIGHT, UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, and his counterpart from International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, presented their reports to the Security Council after two months of on-site investigations. I watched it live on CNN. Baradei said his teams had found nothing to suggest a clandestine nuclear weapons programme in Iraq. Blix, in a way strengthening Bush's war-chant, offered a series of reasons to suspect Iraq had evaded in giving full evidence. But all in all, their reports did not give a green-light for war.

A point to note. Hours before The Blix Report was tabled, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he had not given up hope for finding a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis, and he asked for more time to allow the inspectors do their jobs and disarm Iraq peacefully. Security Council members, including Germany, Russia and the Arab League, seemed to take the cue from Annan. Europen countries, too, call for more inspections, not conflicts. Wire agency UPI has taken snapshots of their immediate reactions, while Washington Post outlines the key issues at hand.

On the US front, Secretary of State Colin Powell keeps saying "time is running out", hinting use of force on Iraq is imminent within days.

US's continued threats to wage war in days should not be taken at face value. But I wonder if Bush's war-plotters understand the Muslim calendar that Aidil Adha is just around the the corner. We understand how badly sagging US economy needs a booster shot. Dubya's State of Union speech tonight and Democrats' reaction may shed some lights.

International press generally says there is no "smoking gun" to trigger an immediate full-scale war on Iraq, at least for the time being. The UN Security Council is left to deal with the cliff-hangers in the coming weeks, or even months, before they can move forward.

Shall we play John Lennon several times more in the coming days? Imagine... Give Peace A Chance...

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Sunday, January 26, 2003

Today is D-Day on Iraq....

LATER TODAY, as the UN arms inspectors report to the Security Council whether Iraq possesses "weapons of mass destruction" and warrants a full-scale war to dismantle them, don't forget Malaysia has made known its stand a long time ago.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad said World War III has begun, but it is not the war against terrorists. Saturday, he debated with US Attorney General John Ashcroft over the issue of terrorism at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Dr M stressed his points on behalf of Malaysians, and we stand by him.

But make no mistakes, history will decide whether Bush's USA will pledge its allegiance to the requirements of Security Council Resolution 1441 passed on November 8 last year. Anything short of that will make Americans international pariahs.

* * *

THE WORLD is still reeling from SQL Slammer worm as I blog today's entry. Expert said the outage was severe with more than 30% packet loss globally at the beginning of the attack. "Voice over IP" service was the hardest hit, and South Korea, Asia's most wired country, was hit worst. Some networks are still down and security experts fear the hit is only a prelude to a larger cyber assault.

Pictures of the damage are being pieced together. It originally hit on a vulnerability of Microsoft SQL Server 2000, but last night, concern has shifted to desktop computers that may have some of the SQL code on them, such as Microsoft Desktop Engine 2000. A research expert at TruSecure Corp. said Compaq Insight Manager, Dell Open Manager and HP OpenView also contain "mini SQL servers".

Interestingly, experts say the outage could have been easily prevented.

* * *

YESTERDAY, champagne popped and drums boomed as Taiwan's China Airlines (CAL) Boeing 747-400 landed at Shanghai's Pudong airport, a first since 1949 when Communists took over mainland China. It's a landmark in China-Taiwan relations. Though all flights originating from Taiwan must transit at either Hong Kong or Macao, the almost direct flights benefit investors and businessmen from both sides of the Straits.

Probably, it's about time we Malaysians learned from these two Asian economies that, though tied by umbilical chords, are perennial arch rivals both politically and economically. They may have realised it's futile to outdo each other on doctrinal politics. Let's talk business instead.

When common sense prevails, substance should triumph over form.

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I thought my ISP screwed up again....

YESTERDAY, Internet was a World Wide Wait even with residential broadband. Google was unusually slow. My blog update engine hosted at went funky. Even sending as small a packet as an ICQ sentence took over 20 seconds. The immediate thought was that my ISP was acting up again. But no, it was none of their fault. It's the "SQL Slammer" worm that wreaked havoc on Internet. Trend Micro classified it WORM_SQLP1434.A, and within 24 hours of detection escalated it from medium risk to high risk. The pattern file is still pending as I blog this. Experts are calling it the worst worm since Code Red in 2001.

The first reported attacks of SQL Slammer were recorded around 05:30 GMT on Saturday morning (13:30 Malaysia Time, but I experienced slowness earlier than that), many countries across the world were subsequently affected. A wire report said as many as five of the 13 Internet root nameservers have been downed because of the outbreak.

The culprit? Microsoft SQL Server 2000!

The SQL Slammer worm takes advantage of a bug that was discovered last July in Microsoft's SQL Server applications. Check out ZDNet UK if you want to know how the worm creates the Denial-of-Service (DOS) effect. Microsoft has a patch, but yesterday's incident has caused havoc beyond Internet. Bank of America said 13,000 of its ATMs could not dispense cash.

* * *

A source alerted me that a Local Councillor from MPSJ (with whom I am annointed a ratepayer) is lobbying a trade association to finance his delegation to attend CeBIT 2003 in Hannover, Germany.

I don't know what business these local councillors have with CeBIT Hannover. The official website says over 90% of the conference, seminars and Corporate Lectures series are conducted in German, whereas the ICT World Forum is by invitation and limited to 500 top-notch ICT decision makers only.

My research team at are probing for more information on this. Meanwhile, I trust some Councillors, at least those who read English papers, did not miss what The Sun columnists wrote about them (Sorry! No links as the free tabloid doesn't have a web version):

R. Nadeswaran, January 22: "Some members of our local councils have to be envied. They, really are, a lucky lot - they are not answerable to anyone for their actions, or inaction."

Goh Ban Lee, January 14: "If a local government is not elected, it is non-representative... The absence of elected councillors is therefore a denial of democracy and accountability at the grass-root level of government. Even if scoundrels and bunglers were to be elected, at least they would be the people's choice.

"...After all, the quality of councillors is a reflection of the calibre of those who appoint them.

"As Malaysians cannot change the bunglers at the local authorities, they may be forced to change those at the state."

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