Ignore the supercomputer race

A NEW list of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers suggests that China might be speeding past the United States in the race for technological supremacy.

China now holds the two top spots, and placed a total of 167 machines on the list. The US had only 165 on the list, with its fastest placing a very distant third.

That is leading some American commentators to wring their hands. Wired went so far as to declare a “blow out” in the race for supercomputer supremacy. But as impressive as China’s accomplishment is, there is no reason to panic. The race for technological dominance will not be won by measuring who can build faster computers.

Instead, what will matter is who invests most wisely in basic research — the kind of methodical, unglamorous science that might yield results only years in the future.

The immediate goal of such research is not necessarily a product, but in the long-term, it might turn into many. Government-funded work on three-dimensional seismic imaging, for instance, helped lay the groundwork for the fracking revolution of recent years.

The Human Genome Project, started in 1990, will provide scientists with raw material to cure diseases for decades to come.

“People cannot foresee the future well enough to predict what’s going to develop from basic research,” is how Dr George Smoot, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, once explained it.

“If we only did applied research, we would still be making better spears.”

In this, the history of supercomputers is instructive. Bell Labs was doing fundamental research on semiconductors back in the 1940s. Eventually, what they developed was licensed to other companies, including Texas Instruments, which then developed transistors, integrated circuits and other components. It was not until the early 1960s that such technology coalesced into an early version of the supercomputer.

The US dominated supercomputing for two decades, but it was only a matter of time before others piggy-backed on established technology to catch up.

In 1981, Japan started a government-backed initiative to develop its own machines. China did the same (with World Bank backing) in 1989. Russia, the European Union and several European countries have joined the game as well.

Amid such competition, the title of world’s fastest supercomputer tends to be a fleeting honorific. And the wisdom of engaging in the race has always been questionable. In 2010, US President Barack Obama’s council of science and technology advisers argued that a “single-minded focus” on increasing speed diverts resources from more creative approaches to computing.

In most fields of science and engineering, for instance, performance improvements from more sophisticated algorithms — the mathematical rules used to solve a problem — have topped those from faster processors in recent years.

That kind of inventiveness is often the result of years of patient (and unprofitable) research — a lesson America should not forget.

Although the US still leads the world in research and development funding, as a percentage of gross domestic product its efforts now lag behind South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. The portion of the federal budget dedicated to R&D has been in decline since 1965.

Corporate basic research has likewise been falling, losing out to the product-oriented kind demanded by shareholders and the global marketplace.

Meanwhile, the competition for basic research is heating up. Chinese research programmes have historically focused on hitting clearly defined goals, which is one reason that supercomputer speed has been such an appealing benchmark.

In 2012, 84 per cent of China’s R&D went to the commercialisation of technologies. But policymakers are starting to change their tune. In tgemiddle of last month, China’s National Science Foundation announced big funding increases for basic research, including cosmic ray physics, mathematics, brain science and infectious diseases.

This is no bad thing. Invigorated competition for basic research would be far more productive than the race to soup up supercomputers.

Fields such as synthetic biology, quantum computing and photonics all stand to benefit from a healthy international rivalry. And areas with less obvious payoffs may prove even more important. Current mysteries such as dark matter might one day turn out to be just as fruitful as one-time mysteries like radio waves.

The benefits may not materialise for years or even decades. But if history is any guide, it’s a good bet that they will be worth the wait. — Bloomberg

New ‘playground’ for children

CYBERSPACE has now become “the new playground” for children. It has been reported that a two-year-old child may spend up to six hours a day on the Ipad unsupervised.

Lately, it was reported that Malaysia ranks third highest among Southeast Asian nations for the ownership and distribution of child pornography, according to Interpol.

Curious and unsuspecting adolescents visit the Internet each day seeking friendship and information but sometimes instead encounter sexual predators. One study showed that one in seven youngsters received unwanted sexual solicitation, and four per cent received aggressive solicitation involving a stranger who wanted to meet them in person. A child’s natural curiosity leads them to websites that may not be suitable for them.

A boy or a girl may be repeatedly victimised by offenders who connect with them via the Internet after first seeing their image on a web cam. They suffer sexual abuses at the hands of the men who had first contacted them online. In many cases, the teens who are lured by sexual predators will never come forward due to fear or a misplaced sense of guilt.

Child prostitution is also being facilitated via the Internet. Pimps use message boards and social networking sites to find customers seeking to engage in paid sex acts with minors.

In the past, child molesters were characterised as often lurking near the school. We, in Malaysia, are aware that child molesters can frequent schools because that is where the children are. The Internet is the new schoolyard. Cyberspace provides a ready hunting-ground for those who seek children.

Social networking sites are places in cyberspace where subscribers may post personal information about themselves and share the information with others. Children and adults use social networking sites to communicate and to make friends.

A study in 2006 estimated that 55 per cent of young people have established online profiles in one or more of the dozens of social networking sites.

Most of these sites are free and permit users to register without providing information about the users’ true identities or whereabouts. The sites are suited for molesters who can pose as harmless mentors while disguising their true intent.

There have been many incidents of registered sex offenders who have created online profiles portraying themselves as inoffensive peopel seeking romance without reference to their malevolent pasts.

Children and teens are unable or unwilling to express their needs for Internet safety. Some children who become victims of child pornography are too young to inform the police as they are often intimidated by the offender.

The evidence of a child’s victimisation is invisible to the public and the crimes are often unreported. Because crimes against children are not publicly apparent and given lower priority than other offences, Internet service providers (ISP) are the unwitting facilitators of Internet crimes against children.

ISPs provide offenders with the connections to the Internet which allows crimes to occur. Without a cyberspace connection provided by an ISP, Internet crime would impossible.

Some conscientious ISP’s are taking helpful steps to educate users about crime prevention to users but more assistance to law enforcement is needed.

What can be done to improve law enforcement efforts towards apprehending Internet sexual predators and traffickers of unlawful images?

ISPs should come out with a policy

statement that they are against child

pornography and paedophilia.

Parents should form a voluntary

cyber patrol and reporting group

We need more data through effective

survey and research.

Investigators should go undercover as in the Richard Huckle’s case.

Law enforcement basic training

academies need to recognise

Internet threats by providing a block

of instruction regarding Internet

crimes against children.

JAMES NAYAGAM

CHAIRMAN

SURIANA WELFARE SOCIETY

Weak governance laid bare by technology

IT is common knowledge that a company must first be registered with the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) and necessary licences obtained in order to operate a business in the country.

Such prerequisites provide basic consumer protection and also enable the government to collect fees and taxes needed to fund expenditure.

Thanks to CCM, incorporating a company in Malaysia is relatively a breeze.

However, obtaining licences can vary among the many government agencies and local authorities.

For most industries, it is natural for existing players to call for a freeze or tightening of licences, while those who wish to enter the market would tout competition is good.

Either way can be right when the criteria set are largely fair and consistently applied, and discontent will arise from lack of transparency.

The most common complaint among licensed operators is the lack of enforcement, especially against unlicensed operators.

A good example was making the public feel that without Uber, we will have to deal with the worst taxi drivers in the world. However, many who use mobile apps would choose ride-hailing or taxi apps anyway, not roadside taxis.

Many would echo that our local taxi drivers ought to do better to compete with Uber. It is much easier to act against registered businesses as they are at the mercy of the authorities than go looking for those daring to operate illegally.

Licensed operators commit their investments at fixed locations, whereas illegal operators are quick to relocate their makeshift business to evade dissatisfied customers or the law.

The advent of the digital economy had not only disrupted traditional businesses but had also caught many government agencies and local authorities flat-footed.

Unlike in the past when illegal operators are more of a nuisance, online businesses have created a market rivalling that of traditional businesses.

Competition is healthy when vendors offer low pricing or best value for the same legitimate goods or services. It is not when they are easily available online, such as contraband cigarettes or pirate taxis.

Huge amount of ringgit is siphoned out of the country by online businesses that pay no local income tax.

Online firms have wrapped many Malaysians around their finger with their marketing gimmicks.

C.Y. MING

AMPANG

Language of love knows 
no colour or creed

FORGIVENESS, love, compassion, caring, sharing, gratitude, faith.

These were among virtues front-paged by Malay Mail in its Wednesday’s Hari Raya edition for a multiracial audience nationwide.

The timing could not have been better with the nation in the warm festive embrace that sees the best coming out of people of all colour and creed.

But we need to look at ourselves out of season when raw emotions run high and no one is in a mood to care, share or indeed, forgive.

I do not pretend to stand on high moral ground, being victim of negative sentiments that assail all of us — there is none spared — at one time or the other.

But the secret, I believe, is to rise above these ragged emotions than always drain us, and the nation in the process.

Restraint, like it or not, is the answer to all under provocation. Knee-jerk reactions are out.

We must lose the herd mentality that increasingly epitomises a society under siege by partisan politics, religious insensitivity and plain lack of self-control.

Take the mob that turned on a 76-year-old who chose to drive along Jalan Masjid India on the eve of Hari Raya when it was teeming with people.

Things could have escalated beyond a smashed widescreen and a shirtless wonder choosing to strut his stuff on the top of
the car.

But cooler minds prevailed in the form of City Hall enforcement officers who brought a semblance of calm into the picture.

They guided the car out of the congestion and air thick with anger.

I dread to think what would have happened if the crowd refused to budge.

In my opinion, the malfeasance of specific individuals who roughed up the senior citizen does not reflect the temperament of traders in the area.

The authorities need to get to the bottom of this sordid affair that should not recur.

Emotional outbursts are alarming in a nation assaulted by religious, political and economic factors with potential to bring the house down.

Someone once said that if we lived by the dictum “an eye for an eye” we will soon be left with blind men and women.

What good will that do to help anyone live peaceably in the limited time we have on this transient place we call earth?

The time has come for us to seriously scrutinise the moral backbone of this nation and the raison de être for our existence as Malaysians.

We need to relook the way the Rukunegara — a timeless code for peaceful co-existence — is being practised by Malaysians of all faiths and political allegiance.

There is a need to forgive, love, have compassion, care for and be thankful for our fellow man.

We need to gird ourselves with faith in the Almighty to face the challenges posed by a society increasingly being pulled apart by abominable forces that have gained credence among the narrow-minded, insular and prejudiced in our midst.

The various communities need to forgive each other the sins of omission or commission in our national history
since independence.

There have been dark moments that have shaken us but have not led to the crumbling of our resolve to keep our nation intact.

We need to love each other unconditionally. We need to exercise compassion with one another.

It may be easier to forgive than to forget. But forget we must if we want to take this nation forward.

And this is where our politicians across the divide need to sow seeds of peace and co-existence among people of various religions.

Supporting discord for political gain may have its short-term gains.

But in the long run, this will lead to the ruin of a nation that can go on to greater success that it has recorded to date.

I would love to see Malaysians filled with gratitude for what we have: a land of milk and honey like our forefathers described Malaya at independence.

The description still applies if we can have it in our heart to be people with a single-mindedness to weather the storm, come what may.

There are storms gathering within the country fuelled by external forces wanting to split us through fear and confusion.

We cannot surrender our sovereignty to miscreants intent on dividing us along religious lines.

Let us not acquiesce to these sinister elements but go back to the spirit of 1957 when our forefathers vowed to live together as brothers and sisters under one roof.

Everyone has to do his bit. Abstentions cannot feature in this equation.

Multi-racial living has to start with the children of this nation who must be exposed to the cultural milieu that we
call Malaysia.

Our schools must drive home the often-repeated message that seems to have fallen on deaf years: united we stand, divided
we fall.

Let’s tear down partitions erected by self-serving egomaniacs to build a renewed nation bound by love, compassion, caring, sharing, gratitude and faith.

I cannot conclude without mentioning love, the glue that will bind all
these together.

With national day around the corner, it is time for all to take a good hard look at the chinks in our armour — and set
things right.

There’s still time as long as good sense, steady hands and sturdy resolve prevail.

Selamat Hari Raya to my Muslim brothers and sisters.

BALAN Moses, associate editor in charge of content development, is a diehard advocate of multi-racial living given the reality of our situation. People of all faiths have to present a united front in the face of unprecedented challenges that are threatening our peaceful coexistence. Moses can be contacted at bmses@mmail.com.my

Protecting the Malaysian 
spirit of Raya

THE month of Ramadan has seen terrorist acts carried out in no less than five Muslim-majority countries.

Istanbul experienced its fourth bombing this year on June 28 when Ataturk Airport was hit by gunmen suspected of acting on behalf of Islamic State (IS), killing 45 and injuring 239.

On the same day, a bomb went off in Puchong, injuring eight. Initially, terrorism was ruled out, but the police later confirmed the claim of an IS fighter that it was their first attack on Malaysian soil.

In Dhaka on July 1, six militants opened fire in a bakery, killing 28. A day later, coordinated bomb attacks were carried out in Baghdad, killing 250. The next day, in three cities in Saudi Arabia, four suicide bombs were detonated, most shockingly near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, killing four people. All were suspected to be the work of IS.

Less prominent in the news (because it has become so normal) is the routine killing and oppressing of Muslims by other Muslims in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and northern Nigeria. Then, there are other parts of the world where nationalism is wrapped up with religious vocabulary in order to justify kidnappings and beheadings.

For most Muslims, the plight of Palestine is at the forefront when thinking of violence against Muslims. And no doubt the recently-published Iraq Inquiry in the UK will trigger another round of condemnation of Western intervention in Muslim countries.

But Muslims cannot ignore the violence and oppression that is occurring between Muslims. We must think about the rhetoric and policies that Muslim leaders adopt. Indeed, after the Ramadan bombings, it should be logically impossible for any Muslim to sympathise with terrorists. The only rational conclusion is that terrorism has no religion.

Unfortunately, politicians and demagogues the world over specialise in appealling to the irrational. This is particularly true for leaders whose power comes from communities that define themselves according to some form of racial or religious group identity. They repeatedly emphasise that their group is under attack, that they must protect themselves, and that accordingly, the leader must wield wide powers in order to ensure “unity” and effectiveness.

The most worrying thing about Malaysia today is the preponderance of such attitudes. I often hear the sympathetic lament kita mesti tolong orang kita, but when that becomes kita mesti hentam orang lain, when such attitudes are embedded into our policy-making and into our institutions, when such emotions are cynically used to cover up grand corruption, we are on a trajectory that is a million miles away from the dreams of Merdeka.

As we repeatedly see people in authority make statements they later backtrack on, there are Muslim Malay Malaysians who see it as an inconvenience that there are many non-Muslim non-Malay Malaysians, and they don’t care much for these fellow citizens. They might even call them infidels, though the more devious will abuse concepts of “democracy” to justify their majoritarian conclusions.

When some people argue that others have no right to talk about laws that “won’t affect them”, it shows that there is not even an initial assumption that our citizenship is shared, that we have a common destiny, and what affects some of us will affect all of us.

I concluded long ago that too many people in formal authority are poisoned by this thinking, or are in cahoots with those who are, in order to perpetuate their own political power. It is, therefore, up to ordinary people and civil society to recapture the essence of our country that was imagined in 1957 and 1963.

Thankfully, I continue to meet so many compatriots across so many organisations who agree. I see the Merdeka spirit on Instagram whenever I post something related to history or to Negri Sembilan’s unique adat. There are young people who want an alternative, authentic narrative of their own history.

More Malaysian Muslims were in shock over the Medina bombing than the Puchong one, but the lesson from both is that beyond shock, we need the right policies. Calling for a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is good. But domestically, we need to ensure that no citizen ever considers another of less value simply because of their heritage.

Identity is not a zero-sum game. Being proud of our roots does not require a hostile attitude to everyone else. If young Malaysians can understand this, we can still be the country we were meant to be.

For now, I’d like to wish everyone, as per before the Arabisation of our language, and as the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal still reassuringly says: Selamat Hari Raya Puasa.

Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin is Founding President of IDEAS

Husni: I did not quit because of Najib

IPOH — Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah has put an end to speculation that he resigned as second finance minister recently due to personal problems with the country’s leadership and the 1MDB issue.

Husni stressed that the decision was personal and not because of any alleged tension with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak or any parties.

“I have no problem with the prime minister, the Cabinet, or Umno. The decision was mine. We live in a world of cognitive tunnelling. When someone retires, people think there is surely some problem but I’m not like that.

“After the 13th general election, I told myself my career was over, but I didn’t know when the day would come. Politics is not easy for a straightforward person like me,” the Tambun MP told reporters at his Hari Raya open house in Kampung Sungai Rokam yesterday.

Husni said he decided his post in the Finance Ministry would be his last portfolio because of the impact it had on the nation.

“We are involved in the financing of the country and I knew the global situation is not that good. I felt I should be there helping the prime minister when we were facing these challenges,” he said.

“When I spoke to (Najib), I told him (this) would be my last portfolio. When he decided to shift me to another ministry, I just told him to drop me. Let me relax.”

Husni, who served as second finance minister since 2009, also dismissed claims that the 1MDB saga contributed to his resignation.

“1MDB is a business entity and you cannot say it is 100 per cent perfect. There is business and financial risk and they must look at mitigating these risks.

“If they can do it, there wouldn’t be any problems with 1MDB. But 1MDB had nothing to do with my decision.”

Husni’s unexpected resignation on June 27 caused many to wonder if the leader would consider joining forces with former Umno stalwarts Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, who are strongly opposed to Najib’s leadership.

However, Husni stressed that he was done with politics.

“I believe in life, there is a full stop. Once we’ve retired, it is time to give the young people a chance because the world has changed and we need to move ahead with new thinking,” he said.

“I won’t be joining other parties because I have my own life. When I’m not in politics, it’s so beautiful because there is no disturbance in my mind. Let me live my life.”

On his future, Husni said he would concentrate on doing his best for the 300,000 constituents in Tambun.

Rent control only for heritage premises

GEORGE TOWN — The proposed rent control law for pre-war shophouses in George Town only seeks to limit rental increases to reasonable rates, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said yesterday.

“This only applies to heritage houses in the World Heritage Site and we will have full public consultation and feedback before implementing these proposals,” he said.

On house owners protesting the move and labelling it “unfair”, Lim said the state must also consider the plight of tenants who have lived in these houses for generations.

On Monday, Lim announced the state executive council’s decision to re-introduce a modified version of the repealed Rent Control Act to curb soaring rental rates.

He said the increasing number of evictions of residents and traditional traders in the heritage zone due to high rental rates was one of the reasons the state was considering passing the enactment.

The Rent Control Act 1966 was repealed in 1997, allowing for previously low rentals to be increased by house owners.

The Act had previously restricted increase of rent by owners of buildings that were built before 1948 and rental rates were as low as RM60 for these houses.

After the repeal of the Act, rental rates had increased to RM500 and above, but with World Heritage Site status, rental rates further increased to between RM4,000 and RM10,000, depending on the size and location of the premises.
— Malay Mail Online

Penang wants RM20m more for conservation

GEORGE TOWN — Putrajaya must continue allocating funds to prove its commitment to preserving the George Town World Heritage Site, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said.

The Penang lawmaker said the initial RM20 million allocated to George Town had long “dried up”.

“We hope the federal government will continue funding the heritage site by giving an additional RM20 million,” he said in his speech at the launch of the George Town World Heritage Celebrations yesterday.

He told Putrajaya that the Unesco World Heritage endorsement for Malacca and George Town should be viewed as an honour to the nation and not merely to states concerned.

He urged the federal government to put politics aside and think about preservation of heritage.

“We need to focus on heritage preservation and conservation, so the funding is needed for this,” he said.

Lim said the federal government had initially promised RM30 million when George Town was recognised as a World Heritage Site but the funding was later reduced to RM20 million.

The RM20 million was channelled to the state through the George Town Grants Programme (GTGP) by Think City Sdn Bhd, a special-purpose vehicle formed by Khazanah Nasional Berhad to implement and manage the programme.

The GTGP ended several years back but Think City continued to organise urban regeneration programmes with stakeholders.

Lim said Putrajaya could also channel the additional funding through Think City, as long as it was meant for George Town.

“I have no problems with them giving additional funding through Think City, we can work with them,” he said.

Malaysians come 
together at open houses

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysians nationwide eagerly turned up to meet and greet the country’s royals and leaders at open houses in conjunction with Aidilfitri celebrations
since Wednesday.

Threats by Islamic State terrorists to carry out more attacks in the country did not dampen the festivities as locals converged in the thousands at the
open houses.

Many foreigners, who joined the celebrations for the first time, were awestruck by the scale of the festivities and hospitality of the people.

Iranian university student, Saboora Semnania, who was among some 70,000 people at Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s open house at the Seri Perdana Complex in Putrajaya, said the Aidilfitri celebrations here were much grander than in her country.

“It is amazing to see Muslims and non-Muslims celebrating together, and with the prime minister. I feel very welcome here and although there are some differences in our cultures, I still feel I belong here and can easily assimilate.

“Just in my first week here, I have experienced how Malaysians celebrate Eid. Unlike back in Iran, we do not celebrate it as extensively as here,” said the student from the University
of Tehran.

Messi, dad to appeal tax fraud verdict

BARCELONA — Lionel Messi will appeal and vowed to clear his name after a court in Spain on Wednesday sentenced him and his father to 21 months in jail for tax fraud, the player’s lawyers said.

The prison sentences are likely to be suspended, as is common in Spain for first offences of non-violent crimes carrying a sentence of less than two years.

The Argentine’s lawyers feel an appeal would eventually succeed in persuading the court that Messi and his father have behaved correctly, the player’s representatives said in a statement.

“The most recent laws from the Supreme Court on the matter that concerns us would seem to prove the argument of the defence,” Messi’s lawyers Enrique Bacigalupo and Javier Sanchez-Vera asserted.

The Barcelona court had found the fottball star and his father Jorge Horacio guilty of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16 million euros (RM18.59 million) of Messi’s income earned from his image rights from 2007-09.

The income related to Messi’s image rights that was allegedly hidden, including endorsement deals with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.

The court found Messi and his father, who has managed his son’s affairs since he was a child, guilty of tax fraud and ruled that for each of those three years, they should serve a sentence of seven months.

Messi, 29, a five-time world player-of-the-year winner, was also fined 2.09 million euros (RM9.34 million) while his father was fined 1.6 million euros (RM7.15 million).

They can appeal the decision to Spain’s Supreme Court and the pair’s lawyers indicated they would, saying they felt confident an appeal would succeed.

Messi told the court during the four-day trial that wrapped up on June 4 that he trusted his father with his finances and “knew nothing” about how his wealth was managed.

Prosecutors had asked for Messi to be absolved, arguing there was no evidence that the player was aware of how his income was managed.

The state attorney representing tax authorities in the trial, Mario Maza, said he found it unlikely that Messi was unaware of the situation.

“There is no deliberate ignorance here, it’s fraud and that’s all there is to it, because he didn’t want to pay his taxes,” he said.

“It’s like a crime boss. At the very top is the bigwig who doesn’t want to know about the details.”

The court agreed, arguing in its ruling Messi “had decided to remain in ignorance”.

“Despite all the opportunities available to the player to show interest in how his rights were managed, he did not,” the court added.

The court said if the player was not punished, “ordinary” citizens could conclude that it was better to “not show interest” in their tax obligations.

Messi’s tax fraud trial has taken place against a backdrop of simmering voter anger over steep cuts to health and social spending, as the government struggles to bring Spain’s public deficit down.

The player and his father made a voluntary payment of 5 million euros (RM22.3 million) – equal to the amount of the alleged unpaid taxes plus interest – in August 2013 after being formally investigated.

After the court delivered its verdict, Barcelona issued a statement “giving all its support to Leo Messi and his father”.

“The club, in agreement with the government prosecution service, considers that the player, who has corrected his position with the Spanish tax office, is in no way criminally responsible in regard to the facts underlined in this case,” it added. — AFP

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