Monday, November 30, 2009

350 & 2 deg C ...

Every news programme you watched and listened to, newspapers you read lately is full of Climate Change and the coming Copenhagen Conference. But do we really understand what is going on? To make something of it we must remember two numbers: 350 and 2 deg C. Why are these numbers significant? Here is what Goh Sui Noi wrote in the Straits Times on 24 November 2009 (I can’t put it any better):

“LAST month on Oct 24, United Nations Day, people around the world had the number '350' thrown at them. Activists - from skateboarders in Australia to farmers in Bangladesh, and from divers in the Maldives to herders on the Mongolian steppes - formed the number with their bodies or held placards and banners bearing it. In Singapore, more than 300 volunteers formed the number for an aerial photograph. They wanted to etch the number deep in the minds of as many human beings as possible. They wanted citizens to push their leaders to negotiate a strong treaty next month in Copenhagen to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and thereby prevent irreversible climate change.

This number - 350 - refers to the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere by volume: 350 parts per million (ppm). It is the low end of a range of 350 ppm to 550 ppm that scientists believe will trigger irreversible climate change. We are now at 387 ppm, and the last time we saw 350 ppm was in 1987. The figure of 350 ppm is what scientists believe is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.

Another figure to remember is 2 deg C. This is a European Union target - to limit the increase in global temperature to a maximum of 2 deg C over pre-industrial levels (or 1.2 deg C over today's level). A rise above 2 deg C is likely to trigger dangerous irreversible climate change.

To achieve this target would require the world to stabilise carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at about 400 ppm and greenhouse gas concentrations - carbon dioxide plus other greenhouse gases - at about 445-490 ppm. Based on the current growth trajectory, greenhouse gas levels could hit 550-700 ppm in 2050.

So what do we do with the knowledge of the possible danger we and our children face? Take the bus or cycle to work or school, use reusable shopping bags, remember to switch off lights not in use, buy fewer clothes, recycle our waste? For how long? A week? A month?

The world needs a more concerted effort than what we as individuals can do on our own - although individual actions are important - to cut emissions to meet the 2deg C target. Emissions must peak by 2020 and then be more than halved by 2050 relative to 1990 levels for global warming to fall below the 2 deg C limit. Developed countries will have to cut their emissions by 25 per cent to 40per cent and developing countries, which emit far less carbon dioxide per capita than rich nations, will have to slow their emissions growth.

A powerful mechanism for reducing emissions would be establishing a carbon price - that is, impose a cost on carbon emissions. Having to pay a price for spewing carbon into the atmosphere would motivate countries, businesses and individuals to reduce their carbon emissions. It would discourage the use of fossil fuels and encourage the development of renewable sources of energy and low-carbon emission, energy-efficient consumer technologies.

'We need more energy, less carbon and price signals to unleash the energy to take us forward,' said Mr Jeremy Benthem, vice-president of Shell Global Business Environment, at a recent conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Two ways to price carbon have been proposed: an outright tax on fossil fuels and a cap-and-trade system. In the latter instance, caps on emissions would be set and power generators, industries and other emitters of carbon would have to purchase permits to emit more carbon than their mandated limits. A market would be established for the trading of permits.

The carbon tax is favoured by some, such as former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo. It would be simpler to implement and less open to corruption than cap-and-trade. It would also set a clear price, something that would be easier for industries to plan around than the fluctuating price that a cap-and-trade system would entail. A tax would also raise a clear amount of revenue, which could be used for the research and development of renewable energy sources or as rebates to the public - for example, to offset higher energy prices.

Proponents of cap-and-trade argue that it has a clear advantage over a carbon tax in that a cap would effectively place a legally binding limit on emissions which a tax would not. While a tax would penalise all indiscriminately, a cap-and-trade system would penalise those who failed to keep within their caps but would reward those who did and who would thus be able to sell their permits in the market. A cap-and-trade system would encourage growth in new green sectors.

The cap-and-trade system was first used successfully in the United States in the 1980s to eliminate the use of leaded petrol in cars. A cap was placed on the production of leaded fuels, and refiners were allowed to buy and sell permits among themselves. Refiners producing unleaded fuels could sell their unused permits to leaded fuel producers. The latter, in order to compete in the market, were incentivised to turn to producing unleaded fuel. Within five years, nearly all leaded petrol was eliminated.

The Kyoto Protocol, the global climate pact now in force, provides for a cap-and-trade system in which 37 developed countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2per cent from 1990 levels. These countries could trade emission reduction credits among themselves, as well as offset their emissions by financing projects that reduce emissions in developing countries.

However, the Kyoto Protocol will end in 2012 and the world is in the midst of negotiating a new treaty. As the time for sealing a deal nears - set for next month at the 15th annual United Nations conference on climate change - several countries are beginning to warm to the idea of a carbon tax or a combination of a tax and emissions trading.

Whichever path is adopted, the emissions cuts must be deep enough to ensure that the 2 deg C limit is maintained. There is no sign yet that the nations of the world are close to agreeing on cuts that will meet that target.”

Remember these figures. Please also remember Brunei despite so insignificant in terms of absolute carbon dioxide emission (total), due to our small population, we have one of the highest per capita (i.e. per person) emission in the world. Something we should not be proud off.

Do our part. Save the Earth from being fried.....

I wonder what is the carbon footprint of all the frying done at the Pasar Malam. Lucky I have cut down on fried chicken wings from there. At least it will help in reducing our emission level, though insignificant in the big picture. But as the saying goes, “Sikit-sikit, lama-lama jadi bukit”.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Korban & Climate Change....

Selamat Hari Raya Haji everyone....

Hari Raya Korban to some of us. In some places it is also known as Hari Raya Aidil Adha. In Brunei, it is the lesser celebrated of the two Hari Rayas. Less in many sense. Less baju raya, less new furniture, less spending, less visiting, less food intake, less greetings, cards and even text messages and many more “lesses”. The only things that is more is more buffaloes, cows, goats, sheep and even camels losing their heads. Even the holiday is less, just a day of public holiday compare to two days for Hari Raya Aidil Fitri. Fortunately this year it falls on Saturday for us in Brunei. We have a long weekend. Add to that it is the end of the school term in fact the end of the school year for school kids. The more reason for us to celebrate yet waking up this morning, it did not feel like hari raya at all.

To me the best part of Hari Raya Haji apart from the many majlis korbans and bountiful supply of free meat is hearing the takbir hari raya for four days. Many people, including me, feel sad and sayu hearing takbir hari raya for many reasons. Tears flowing, nose blocked up. For Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, we can only hear it and betakbir during malam pukol, the night before hari raya, until before sembahyang hari raya. Not enough.

May be it is not fair for me to say we do not celebrate Hari Raya Haji. Some people do. In fact the number of invitations increasing every year indicating more and more feeling of celebration. May be one day, we will celebrate Hari Raya Haji as meriah as or as alive as we celebrate Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.

Whatever we do, in this climate of economic downturn, in whatever climate for that matter, more celebration does not mean increase in spending which may lead to increase in wastage. In moderation, that’s the name of the game.

Talking about climate, the Climate Change Forum in Copenhagen is just two weeks to away. Most, if not all pundits, expected it to end in a stalemate. The develop countries with their stand. The developing countries with theirs. Whatever their stand, the world, as the scientists had said countless times is heading to a disaster if we go on living like we are now. Spewing carbon and other toxic chemicals. The earth is warming. Any more warmer than the 2 centigrade increase in earth's temperature, we will be on an irreversible path with disastrous consequences. Throughout the world we have already seen the effect of climate change. Unseasonal droughts, rain, typhoons, floodings. 2012 movie coming to the mind. Yet the countries are still divided on emission cuts and who to finance the efforts amongst other things.

Some reports are saying ordinary people are doing more then what their governments are doing towards alleviating the climate change. Noticeably in Brunei, this issue is less discussed among the public apart from once in a while some event or talk is organised. May be we have other more pressing matters to focus on. But we have to remember we live in one world, one earth. Whatever happened in the other parts of the world will have an impact on us. May be we, the public, should give more attention to this thing the whole world is worried about, the Climate Change.

Let’s hope and pray they will come to the desired conclusion in Copenhagen. I suppose we, the whole world, have to ‘berkorban’ or make sacrifices if we want to have a world for the future generations to live on.

“Berkorban apa saja, harta atau pun nyawa.....” P. Ramlee sang ......

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Simplicity .....

In my line of work and having a “brainy” boss, reading and listening to stories, which almost all are fascinating, is part of my daily work routine. One of the stories I heard a few times over but never quite catch the whole story, being a forgetful person and not a story teller, was about the space race of 1960s between the Americans and the Russians. Today I came across the story in one of the papers I read. The story goes ...

“During the space race of 1960s, NASA was faced with a major problem. The astronaut needed a pen that would write in the vacuum of space. So they went to work. After spending US$1.5 million, they came up with a pen that would write in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, over wet and greasy paper and in extreme temperature ranges. It was an engineering marvel. The Russians? They just used pencils.”

This story shows how in our daily lives, we tend to complicate things. We put great effort, time, money and creativity to solve a problem when all it needs is a simple solution. A lot of the time the solution is obvious, right in front of our eyes.

Keep things SIMPLE!

Today is Government Payday, tomorrow is Paybill Day......

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Going Bananas....

I love bananas. Especially the cucur kind. There was a time everyday for breakfast will be cucur pisang. Lately, I have gone bananas, literally crazy. Crazy about bananas, the fruit not just the cucur type. Bananas are good for you. Just look at these facts: no fat, sodium or cholesterol, rich in vitamin B6 and they are a good source of fibre, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.

To be honest I do not know much about bananas before. All I know is monkeys love them, the cucur is delicious especially from the places we frequented. I will not name the places. Not paid any advertising fees. I gave bananas serious thought only recently when told to change my eating habits. Well, it is a nice way of saying I have been told to go on a diet.

Talking about diets, all these while I thought my body weight had gone down significantly from many months ago. There I was feeling happy about it until one day I decided to get a new weighing scale. I had a big shock when I stood on top of it. Around six kilos difference between the old and new scale. Must get back to serious change of eating habits. According to Ministry of Health, we should not exceed 1200 calories intake every day. They even come up with a weekly menu which on certain days looks delicious on other days boring. To know more, go and see your dietician at your local clinics.

Back to the bananas. Surprise, surprise, an article in a newspaper I read categorised bananas as “Happy Food”. Bananas help produce the happy hormone, serotonin. Apparently, having bananas and other happy foods early in the morning can set us on happy mood, banishing the blues. There are ways to produce serotonin to get us “high” throughout the day, legally off course, such as having Mediterranean style diet, concentrating on protein at lunch time, evening meal rich in carbohydrates (good news for those against “no carbs in the evening” advice). Rich carbo meal with no protein will stimulate serotonin production. Chocolates, the dark type will also make us high. Some people say it is an aphrodisiac. Another good mood enhancer are nuts. But gout sufferers beware!

Off course a healthy diet will always include lots and lots of water. Maintain our hydration. Reduction in our hydration levels can make us grumpy. At least eight glasses.

I wonder if we encourage the offices to serve these happy foods throughout the day especially in meetings, with everyone high and in a happy mood, will decisions and compromises be reached easily? Just may be.

Let’s start our day with happy food, the easier one to get hold of is off course the banana. We all will be on happy mood, no grumpy morning faces, everybody smiling, courteous. But not too much though. People may end up being saying you had gone bananas.....

I am neither a diet expert nor a dietician he he he.........

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Read an interesting guide on style for formal occassions in a paper recently:

• About 1.5 cm or ¾ inch of collar and cuff should emerge from under a jacket;
• How do you know which collars suit you? Apparently, the fuller the face, the wider the collar; the slimmer the face, the straighter the collar. Long, think neck means high collar stands; short, thick neck means collars lie flat;
• And off course NO WHITE SOCKS!

How many of us, men, has broken these rules? Over the years, learned some things about style despite admittedly I am not a stylish person. No white socks is definitely one of them. The one that I always keep in mind is the length of jacket or shirt. It should not go below the level of the fingers when you are standing up. Anything more I will look even more vertically challenged.

Why is this important? Why image is important? According to some PR agencies, 80% of everything we do is PR, public relation. Image, visual image, goes a long way to help you sell your views and products. If you want to be taken seriously, look after your image. If we do not take the effort, we run the risk of losing the attention or the sell. First impressions, looks are important despite in this politically correct environment most will not admit to it. It is human nature. Especially, even more so when dealing with strangers. To be seen as professional, you must portray the professional image. How you dress is definitely very important.

According to Les Giblin in his bestselling book “Skill With People”, we learn and buy 83% through sight, 11% through hearing. The rest through smell, touch and taste. Image is definitely important.

There are people no matter what they put on, they will always look stylish even in simple clothing. There are people with their very own sense of style. Then there are people, no matter how hard they try, no matter what they put on, even the most expansive clothings, somehow, always ending up a disaster. Some prefers to keep things simple in keeping with the mantra SIMPLE IS BEAUTIFUL. Some prefers lighthing things up with bright colorful patterned shirts. Some with blings blings enough to dazzle even to blind us especially on a bright sunny day.

Of course there are instances image and how you look does not matter. An example of this is your parents, no matter how they look, how they dress, be it in kain pelikat and baju cap buaya or butterfly batik bajus, you always take them seriously. As you grow to know someone, how they look will not matter so much. The emotion, the love, the respect will override how they look.

True, look is not everything, but it definitely brings you a long long way .....

Les Giblin also says “People are more interested in themselves, not in you.... Man’s actions are governed by self thought, self interest”. A friend recently said "Love people, use things NOT love things use people." Two opposing ends to ponder....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cut & Paste & Toilets ....

Yesterday we had the World Town Planning Day Celebration. As the name says, the emphasis is on planning. Planning is an important step in doing everything, anything in fact. Not to plan is planning to fail, some says. So everyone plans but sometimes we don’t too. Sometimes we followed our gut feeling, our instinct. Then again this can also be planning. Planning to follow our guts. Big guts in some instances.

In doing our work we planned ahead, we have a system, an approach albeit it varies from one individual to another. My line of work involves preparing speeches for my boss. As with any speeches, be it major or minor, inputs or sometimes the full text will be provided by the relevant people. These inputs will then be transferred to a ready template. Technology, computers, make the work even simpler, faster. Highlight the text, right hand click, press cut then paste it to the template. Simple! Then the hard part. Going through the text. Making sense of it, adjustments, numbering, spelling checks, thorough info checks and all the normal stuff. Sounds straight forward. Job done bar last minute changes. Then came the time the speech delivered. The shock of my life. First para, the opening para was totally wrong. What a clanger! Had the wrong occasion typed on it. The cut & paste curse hits again. So much for the planning, the so called systematic approach, the use of technology. It is true when people say no matter how hi tec we go, if garbage goes in, garbage will come out. I put my hands up. I am the guilty one. No need to charge me. I admit.

The moment the boss said that now infamous sentence, I wished the earth just swallow me. Kick me on the backside, slap my head, clip my ears, tok ketampi Hj Bakhil style, all in one. All the planning, all the good work especially by the people giving the inputs went down the toilet!

Ah! Toilets! Today, 19 November is World Toilet Day. The day we remember toilets. As if we do not remember them enough as it is. We visit them every day, a few times a day. Our best friends in time of needs. We reminisce, we think, we read, we angan-angan, we sing, we call, we text, we facebook, we tweets, in fact we do all sort of things in them. But do we appreciate them? Some do, some do not. We must. Just look at these statistics: 2.5 billion people worldwide are without access to proper sanitation, which risks their health, strips their dignity, and kills 1.8 million people, mostly children a year; even the world's wealthiest people still have toilet problems - from unhygienic public toilets to sewage disposal that destroys our waterways. Let’s do something about it! Let’s commit to improving toilet and sanitation conditions. That scene in the Slumdog Millionaire comes to mind......

An anecdote my boss kept telling us is imagine if we are walking along in the row of shops in Kiulap or Gadong. Suddenly the tummy grumbles, just like the worst ribut you can think off. No rest bite. Grumble and grumble. Rumblings. The light is on amber and ready to turn green. But no toilets in sight. Not a single public toilet in the rows of shops. Only private toilets. You will end up going to one of the shop, buy whatever you can get your hands on. Then asked kindly but sure in grumblings voice, “Boleh pinjam jamban boss?”. Add to that no water, no tissue, nothing! That could be the worst day of your life, your worst nightmare, ever worse than the nightmares those kids have in the Nightmare on Elm Street Movies.

On this day, let’s show our appreciation to our toilets. Keep them clean. Improve them.

Read more about World Toilet Day here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Sharing is caring, some people say. Sharing is definitely one good value to hold dear. Here I am sharing what I read recently on values.....

“....Icelanders, still stunned by the collapse of their banks a year ago, chose “honesty” as their chief national value on Saturday at an experimental assembly of politicians and ordinary people to map the island’s future. Some 1,500 Icelanders, from ministers to fishermen, took part in the experiment, dubbed the National Assembly, in an attempt to define their basic values as the country of 320,000 continues to grapple with its worst-ever economic crisis...... Honesty topped the list of Icelandic values that resulted from their conversations, followed by respect, equality, justice, responsibility and compassion.....”

A point to note, Iceland is a country with some similarity to us. Put aside that we are in very different climate zones, Iceland a developed country, Brunei a developing country. In many terms we are in the same bracket as Iceland: population size, high literacy rate, population age structure, high percentage of urban population, life expectancy, similar GDP, the labour force numbers, annual budgets, high mobile and internet users, just to name a few.

Based on this, some people may say it is reasonable to argue, we may come up with similar values if we do the same exercise. But in reality, are we?

Let’s look at another piece of news from a neighbouring country with similar culture to us. This particular survey highlighted what the respondents felt most pressing issues are.

“......Corruption and abuse of power is the most important problem which needs to be solved, a new survey of voters in the country released today showed..... Notably, the kind of graft listed as most serious was petty corruption, with 42 per cent viewing it as “very serious.” This was followed by nepotism (41 per cent), fraud (37 per cent), corruption among politicians (34 per cent), grand corruption (30 per cent) and administrative corruption (24 per cent).....”

Wonder what will be the result if the same survey is done here. Not wanting to speculate on the outcome, if we as a country hold dear to our values, it will not be surprising to see corruption and abuse of power comes well below in the list. May be, just maybe, social problems, welfare, crime and public safety will come higher. But looking at the current situation, I will not be surprised to see “financial woes” comes on top. If I am a betting man and into horses aka lumba kuda, this will be odds on favourite.........

Congratulations to my son ..... well done son...

Monday, November 09, 2009

Durian & Economics.....

Now is musim buah. In fact it has been musim buah for the last couple of months. By all accounts, this musim buah has been an excellent one. Fruits aplenty. Juicy delicious ones. Just look at durian. All sorts of durian especially durian kuning everywhere. “Bejurit” here and there. A friend who went all the way to Lamunin area to hunt for durian kuning even remarked there were too many durians, too many until it is the first time in his life he had to turn away the durians.

By supply and demand law, as the durian is so many, the price should be lower. It was and is still low. But it was even lower after the first and second week of hari raya. It remained so low until the last Sunday of October. Then it went up suddenly, some places by as much as 50%, almost. The supply was there, the eager people wanting to eat those lovely durians were there. What was lacking was the purchasing power. With almost a quarter of the over 180,000 workforce in Brunei in the Government service, that is a significant number of the population having their early payday before Hari Raya. By Hari Raya, almost, if not all of the income was spent or committed to the Hari Raya preparation. Not much left for the durians. With less purchasing power, durian aplenty, less buyers, the prices dropped just like the stock market prices on a bad bad day. Bear Market indeed for the durians.

Came Government Pay Day on Monday 24 October, not surprisingly, the price jumped up. Bull Market for the durians. Excellent example of supply and demand at work.

Do we as a nation overspent unnecessarily during Hari Raya? Do we as a country lives from pay cheque to another pay cheque? The answer may be obvious but as in many things, we may need a consultant to do a study and tell us. Why waste money on looking for obvious answers? Isn’t it better to focus on what to do about it?

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Today we celebrate Teachers’ Day. I am sure everybody has someone that has taught them something useful in life. Be it “official” teacher or just anybody with no teaching qualification. To these people, we wish them Happy Teachers Day. We show appreciation to them for what they taught us. We must be thankful to them. Show our respect to them for the rest of our lives we must.

Talking about teachers, reminded me of my school days. As with many others, we have our favourite teachers and our least favourite, or shall I say, hated teachers. Some students, be it boys or girls even were “infatuated” with the teachers. Looking back, how the teacher was affected and impacted on how we students like a certain subject and to the extend how what was taught stayed in our head, not just “masuk telinga kiri, keluar telinga kanan”.

Over the years, some teachers remained forever etched in the memory. One Indian teacher was so good; I owed to him my ability to solve mathematical questions and also my understanding of the chemistry world. Biology was one of my least favourite subject yet due to one moment of madness in class, where a few of us were thrown out of the class by one teacher, led to my obsession on Biology resulting in a surprising distinction. I owed it to him for kicking me out and stirred me to action. An English teacher who taught us maths, shared with us his passion for football and football pools. He called us his hooligans and he supported a “shit” team (forgive my language, that what I told him exactly), Middlesbrough. Through him, I started listening to the BBC World Service for the football results. Those days, with no internet, no satellite TV, we have to rely on the shortwave radio. There I was, every Saturday evening, radio to my ear trying to make out what is being said through the “hissing” of the shortwave transmission. To date, BBC World Service is still my source of information by choice, albeit now through the internet and satellite TV. Bye bye the shortwave radio.

If all the stories are to be written here, I am sure it will be a long entry. So long, I may end up running out of space in this blog. Enough to say, throughout our lives, not just our student days, we will meet people who will teach us something that will leave a significant mark for the rest of our lives. Like them, hate them, they are our teachers. We will forever be indebted to them. Happy teachers’ day everyone.....

Everyone is a teacher as well as a student. We learn, we teach every day. Keep an open mind. Open all communication channels to receive as well as transmit.