Monday, September 19, 2016

Sidekick 98 Available

With Sidekick 98 working beautifully on Windows 10, it is clear that this old gem is far from dead.  

As many of you have asked, I am unable to find any commercial source for the software.  According to Wikipedia,

Starfish Software was founded in 1994 by Philippe Kahn (and his wife Sonia Lee), as a spin-off from the Simplify business unit from Borland and Kahn's severance from Borland. It was located in Santa Cruz, California.

Starfish developed intellectual property for device synchronization, especially for wireless devices. TrueSync was the first over-the-air synchronization system. Starfish was acquired by Motorola for $325 million in 1998.[1] The outspoken founding couple founded another company, LightSurf, in the same year, to develop mobile phone photograph technology.[2]

In 2000, the company helped start the SyncML Initiative to standardize synchronization communication protocols.[3] In March 2003, Starfish was acquired by Pumatech in San Jose, California, which was headed by turn-around CEO Woodson Hobbs.[4] Pumatech later changed its name to Intellisync, and was acquired by Nokia in 2005.[5]

Anything that ended up with Nokia back in 2005 is presumably forgotten.

The good news is that I have been able to put together a complete .zip file with all the original install disks, the patches that were released over the life of the product, the original user manual in .PDF format, and a set of instructions on how to install Sidekick 98 on XP, Windows 7, and Windows 10.  I am asking for a nominal fee to defray the costs of the website and my time.

To get the Sidekick 98 package, please click here


Monday, June 27, 2016

Contactless Payment Cards Are Dangerous


As banks issue new debit and credit cards with contactless features - the ability to tap instead of swipe or insert - it appears their thinking has also evolved.

One of the fundamental benefits of a bank issued credit card is the knowledge that you, as the card holder, are protected from fraud and misuse.

Well that all changes.

Standard Chartered has sent notice that their terms and conditions are changing as of July 1, 2016.  You accept the change by using the card after that date, sort of a contactless agreement...

So how does the bank view the risk of contactless credit cards?

9.6 The cardholder undertakes to be liable for all
contactless transactions incurred using the credit
card and posted to the cardholder’s account
regardless of whether or not the contactless
transactions were properly authorised by the
cardholder. In this regard, the cardholder
acknowledges the ease of which unauthorised
contactless transactions may be carried out and
accepts all risks associated with such transactions.

So, the bank is washing its hands of all responsibility for anything that happens with the card, and you as the cardholder, are on the hook for anything that occurs.  There is no way around this clause.  If a transaction takes places accidentaly, fraudulently, or maliciously, you are responsible.

AND, you acknowledge that you knew the card was dangerous, and yet you chose to keep using it.

Thanks Standard Chartered.

Unless you are really hooked on contactless payments, I would immediately write to your bank and demand the issue of a non-contactless card to avoid this uncontrolled risk.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Singapore fights the haze with industrial sized air fresheners

While the citizens of Singapore have been distracted by the holiday season, the government of Singapore has executed a brilliant plan to deal with the haze situation.

The Indonesians have proved difficult to persuade when it comes to controlling the burning of their rain forests.  In fact, they have rightly pointed out that Singapore does not thank them enough for the clean air they let escape. 

Given such a difficult situation, the Scholars of Singapore™ have thought outside the box.  "if one can freshen the air in a car with a little green paper tree, why not scale it up and fix the whole country?"

And so we go from this:

to this:

It is clearly working, because the haze has subsided since the giant pine tree air fresheners were installed.


Friday, October 30, 2015

Singapor's broken public transport system - Kishore Mahbubani catches up

I wrote about the broken state of Singapore's public transport system back in March, 2013.  At the time I pointed out the fallacy of applying free market capitalist models to providing public utilities that are natural monopolies.

It seems that Professor Kishore Mahbubani has come to the same conclusion.  According to the Straits Times,

Government should run Singapore's public transport system: Kishore Mahbubani

SINGAPORE - Singapore's public transport system should be de-privatised and be managed by the government instead of private operators, according to a prominent academic.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani, the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said Singapore's public transport woes are a result of privatising bus, train and taxi networks.

Singapore should not "remain a prisoner of old economic ideas", said Prof Mahbubani, who was speaking on Thursday (Oct 29) at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum organised by the Economics Society of Singapore.

Private corporations are judged on the basis of quarterly results and have less of an incentive to spend on long term maintenance, he added.

"Have we learnt from our mistakes and are we prepared to move ahead?" said Prof Mahbubani, adding that privatisation "has been taken too far" and Singapore should have the "political courage" to make changes to the system given its shortcomings.

It is nice to see that the blindingly obvious is even obvious to those labelled as academics... 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Guys Holding Purses - The Other View

I have written before about the strange phenomenon one observes in Singapore of men holding their wife's/girl friend's purse while out shopping - .

Just to present the other side of the cultural equation, here is a link to a funny ad that shows the North American take on the situation - The Purse.

(thanks Bryan)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Musing about en bloc rules in the Straits Times - here we go again

An opinion piece by Chia Yan Min in the Straits Times on Tuesday, November 12, 2014 (As old buildings age, rethink rules on en bloc sales) muses that new rules are needed to force easier sales of aging properties.  

I have written before about the slippery slope created by allowing private property rights to be tampered with by the State (eminent domain) or by rules (en bloc sales).  There must be a very limited and extraordinary case for abrogating a person's property rights.  Commercial considerations and aesthetics do not pass that test.

The argument made in the editorial is that the benefits of urban renewal must be balanced against the "interests" of owners of older buildings.  The evidence is that a number of buildings have been allowed to decay due to lack of maintenance, and therefore present an affront to the writer.

One has to ask why buildings are falling apart so quickly.  Are they being built poorly?  Are they designed poorly?  Are they designed intentionally to have a short life?  Cities elsewhere in the world seem to be able to sustain their building stock over much longer periods than in Singapore.  It seems to be our culture that "replace" is preferred to "repair". 

There are a couple of contributing factors to the perceived problem of aging buildings.  The good news is that they are all curable with building and governance standards, without the need to interfere with property rights.

Maintenance - Anyone living in a mature Singapore condo knows that there are those on the condo boards that block any and all spending resolutions.  Motivations for this behaviour are varied - some people are just cheap, some genuinely are unable to afford higher monthly fees, some are absentee investors who have no stake in the building and look forward to realizing a profit when the land is sold.

The cure for this problem lies in establishing a governance structure for strata-titled properties that requires condo associations to maintain their premises, obtain engineering reports on the building and plant in order to plan financially for replacement and then fund their capital account appropirately.  Above all, maintenance cannot be optional.  

This is not theory.  The Province of British Columbia in Canada has excellent legislation in this regard, and none of the derelict building problems that Singapore seems to have. (Strata Propery Act)

Design - I lost my home of 9 years when Ardmore Point went en bloc.  The building that has risen to replace it has basically the same number of units, but now being sold at a multiple of 4 times more than the sellers received.  Nobody who lived in the original building could afford to buy one of the new units.  

This was not a case of an old building needing to be torn down.  This was a reinforced concrete bunker that would have lasted forever with maintenance and updating.  The condo owners were offered a financial incentive, and as most were non-resident, they took it.  A great building was destroyed for no particular reason other than to allow re-pricing of the land by the buyer.  In the process, families living in the neighbourhood were displaced, and the new building is mostly unsold and empty.  It may look prettier, but it has failed as a place to house actual humans.

The new buildings that  we are seeing now as replacements of for all those structures destroyed in the last great en bloc wave are pre-fab concrete structures with curtain wall envelopes.  Hardly the stuff of millennia.  One has to ask whether the planners at the URA prefer disposable buildings so that they can rearrange Singapore more conveniently when the mood strikes.  

Again, legislation and building standards are the solution to rapidly decaying structures.  There is no engineering reason to have this outcome, it is a function of design and maintenance.  

We don't need to change en bloc rules to allow people to be forced out of their homes more easily, we need rules to allow owners to run and maintain their buildings properly.

Monday, November 10, 2014

CapitaLand solves the housing glut

Driving past a construction site yesterday, I was amused to see the advertising hoarding erected by CapitaLand.  

With the slogans "When we build buildings we build people too", and "CapitaLand - Building People", it is a thought provoking sign.

We have all read about the severe over building that has led to a housing glut in Singapore. Apart from prices, which have barely moved in the face of government cooling measures, there is an imbalance between demand and supply, with more than 16,000 vacant units for sale.

Enter CapitaLand, a government-linked real estate developer.  With all the out-of-box-thinking so beloved of government ministers, CapitaLand has managed to find a solution to the problem of over supply.  Build people.

What genius!  Instead of waiting for customers to show up, just build your own.

Presumably this solves the immigration problem as well, since all the new people being built will be Singaporeans. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sidekick 98 runs on Windows 10 Technical Preview

Unless you are a user of Sidekick 98, the following statement is going to seem perverse.  

"I will not upgrade to Windows 10 unless it runs Sidekick."

Why does it matter if a piece of software that is more 17 years old works in 2014?  

Those of us who continue to value Sidekick 98 know the answer.  There is still no substitute for functional elegance that is SK98.  With the move to mobiles and apps, the situation just gets worse.  The original promise of the PC has been lost.  It is no longer a personal computer, it is merely a client attached to a cloud, pumping out ads.  Doing real work, with tools that assist instead of impose has become a thing of the past.

So back to SK98.  

I have written about this software before, and continue to use it on a daily basis.  I have a database of all logins to websites and accounts, which lets me maintain high security by having a different login for every account.  When it is time to login, I copy/paste from Sidekick to enter the credentials.

This is so central to everyday life, that a computer becomes useless unless I can have SK running.  

I copied over the directory of SK98 from my backup.  The original software came on  seven 3 and a half inch floppy disks.  By making a directory for each floppy, the setup program is able to run.  In this case, Setup ran perfectly, and SK98 appeared to be installed correctly.

There were also a number of patches released.  After setup is complete, it is a matter of going to the installed directory and replacing a couple of files - sidekick.exe dated 2000-01-07 and yintl.dll dated 2000-01-11.

Since Windows XP, it is necessary to do one more step.  Although it looks like SK98 is installed, no data is saved when you click the save button.  The introduction of security features in Windows means that you have to locate the sidekick.exe file, right click, and then select "run as Administrator".  This gives the software the required permissions.

I loaded my files, added data, changed data, saved, re-opened, printed.  Everything works.

That's it.  Windows 10 is a candidate for upgrade.

Evaluating Windows 10 Technical Preview using a VM

As long time users of Microsoft Windows know, not every release is an upgrade.  

Windows 95 was sort of usable, while Windows ME was not.  Windows 98 worked, but Windows XP was the first really stable version.  Vista was a dog.  Windows 7 was XP on steriods, but with a disturbing trend of hiding the plumbing.  Windows 8 is unusable for a desktop user, and suspect for a tablet.

As much as it would be nice to just stick with what works, the Microsoft licensing machine does not let vendors sell old versions of Windows, and one inevitably is forced into the latest release when buying new equipment.

So it was with some trepidation that I launched into an installation of Windows 10 Technical Preview.  Going by past experience, this should be the version that is "good", redeeming the madness of Windows 8.

I downloaded the Windows 10 Technical Preview from Microsoft's site dedicated to Windows 10.  The trick is to download the .ISO version of the file.  There is no need to burn the file to a DVD in order to install - the VMPlayer can read it directly.

Rather than dedicate a whole machine to the task, I created a virtual machine using the free VMPlayer from VMware.  One of the options is to create a new virtual machine, which I did, specifying 2 processors, 4 gigabytes of memory, and pointing to the newly downloaded Windows ISO file as the install source for the OS.  

Setup ran without a hitch, the install rebooted, and I was looking at the login screen for Windows 10.  I logged in with my account, and then kicked off the install for VMTools.  This is the extra software that makes moving between the VM and host computer easier and more integrated.  The last task was to go into the VM menu and set networking to Bridged mode so that the Windows 10 installation could see the local LAN as well as the Internet.

At this point, things looked pretty normal, and I was feeling optimistic.  The desktop is showing Build 9841. The Start button is back. I don't have large, motion sickness-inducing, live tiles littered around the screen. I can get to functions I know are in the OS without massive treasure hunts.  

I installed Firefox (it works) and VLC (it works).  I ran Windows Update, which grabbed one updated patch and updated definitions for Windows Defender, which is now automatically included with Windows, and replaces Security Essentials.

By then, it was way too early in the morning, and I headed to bed.  

Next job - installing SideKick 98.  If that doesn't install, it is game over for Windows 10.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Not irrational to withdraw CPF funds at 55

The Straits Times published a piece by NUS economists entitled "Puzzling Behaviour of Singaporeans at 55" as part of their monthly "Ask NUS" series. 

The gist of the piece is that it is irrational for people to withdraw their CPF funds at age 55, because there is no alternative in the market that earns the same or higher interest rate.

Withdrawing one’s CPF funds is not as irrational as it may seem. 

Analysing an investment is fundamentally about risk versus reward. I made the decision to withdraw my CPF funds for the simple reason that the risk is too high to leave them with CPF. 

I am not concerned about the financial stability of the government or the Fund itself, but I am concerned about the constant changes to the rules governing CPF.  What started out as a simple and effective provident fund has become an overly complicated vehicle for whatever social policy is the hot topic of the day. 

I cannot treat as risk free the possibility that the Ordinary Account minimum sum, the Medisave account, the Retirement account, or any other account is going to be subjected to new minimum balances or restrictions on withdrawal. 

Unlike my deposits with a bank which are governed by contract and law, a government can, and has, done whatever it wants with the CPF rules. 

Fundamentally, this is my money – I have worked long and hard to ensure that I have sufficient funds to support my family, and I cannot risk that some new rule change is going to affect my ability to access those funds when I choose to use them. 

My rational decision is to avoid the risk and forgo some immediate income in order to gain control over my funds.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Audio Industry 1, snake oil 0

From CEA

DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, in cooperation with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® and The Recording Academy®, announced today the results of their efforts to create a formal definition for High Resolution Audio, in partnership with Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.

The definition is accompanied by a series of descriptors for the Master Quality Recordings that are used to produce the hi-res files available to digital music retailers. These can be used on a voluntary basis to provide the latest and most accurate information to consumers.

"The DEG is proud to have played a key role in coordinating the work behind finalizing this important agreement" said Amy Jo Smith, president of DEG. "Thanks to this initiative, the industry can take a unified approach in offering digital music services a variety of information concerning the growing number of hi-res music titles being distributed today".

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA, stated, "The Consumer Electronics Association is pleased to have partnered with the DEG, The Recording Academy and major music labels in creating this new High Resolution Audio definition. The contributions made by our Audio Division Board will help consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers alike in their efforts to market the latest compatible devices and help provide more clarity about HRA for consumers."

"Leading members of The Recording Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing provided valuable feedback on this new High Resolution Audio definition and descriptors for Master Quality Recordings, and we're grateful for their input and expertise," said Neil Portnow, president/CEO of The Academy. "When properly implemented, we believe this agreement will be welcomed by our members and the music community, enhancing their ability to improve the music creative process."

Conveying a Clear Message

High Resolution Audio is defined as "lossless audio that is capable of reproducing the full range of sound from recordings that have been mastered from better than CD quality music sources."
In addition to this definition, four different Master Quality Recording categories have been designated, each of which describes a recording that has been made from the best quality music source currently available. All of these recordings will sound like the artists, producers and engineers originally intended.

Said Darren Stupak, Executive Vice President, U.S. Sales and Distribution, Sony Music Entertainment, "We are pleased to be supporting this definition for High Resolution Audio. We believe that a fundamental way to enable increased development of high def content and hardware, and more awareness and adoption of high-quality listening solutions, is to provide common language and technical descriptors for the music marketplace to use. We think that product offerings that reproduce the full range of sound from recordings, exactly as the artist intended, are a new and compelling option for increasing numbers of music and electronics consumers."

"Universal Music Group is pleased to work alongside the DEG, CEA and The Recording Academy to reach agreement on a High Resolution Audio definition and Master Quality Recording descriptors," said Jim Belcher, VP of Technology & Production. "This initiative brings further clarity for consumers of HRA content, and UMG looks forward to making more high resolution tracks available for music fans to enjoy."

Matt Signore, president, Artist & Label Services, WEA, added, "We support the creation of clear and formal definitions for master quality sources. As high resolution music services continue to grow, we encourage and look forward to all partners in the music value chain meeting the definitions of High Resolution Audio, and providing easy-to-use and exciting experiences. We expect 2014 and 2015 to be years of important developments around High Resolution Audio."

Master Quality Recording sources

The descriptors for the Master Quality Recording categories are as follows:

From a PCM master source 48 kHz/20 bit or higher; (typically 96/24 or 192/24 content)

From an analog master source

From a CD master source (44.1 kHz/16 bit content)

From a DSD/DSF master source (typically 2.8 or 5.6 MHz content)

High Resolution Audio Listening Experience
To further expand the High Resolution Audio initiative, The Recording Academy, the DEG and the CEA are sponsoring a special High Resolution Audio Listening Experience event, which will be held at Jungle City Studios in New York on Tuesday, June 24 from 6PM to 9PM during CE Week.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Singapore's public transportation system is broken

Singapore's transportation system is broken - here's how to fix it

Moving around one’s city is not something that is optional.  Everybody has to be able to get to work, school, shopping, medical care, and recreation facilities.  When everybody needs a service, it is a public good, and a natural utility.  That means that government has a role to play, either as the service provider, or as a regulator of the monopoly.

What’s wrong with the current setup?

In short, the erroneous application of open market principles to transportation. 

The MRT subway system has been fragmented between different operators.  But the fact is, holes in the ground do not compete.  If I live in proximity to a subway line, the fact that another subway line exists is irrelevant – I only use the one that is applicable to me.  

 This may seem obvious, but somehow the government has persuaded itself that there is benefit from forcing subway lines to compete.  The same thing applies to buses.  Unless both operators are sending buses down the same routes, there is no competition, just duplication.   

This needs to stop now, and the natural economies of scale offered by a growing rail and bus network need to be captured for the benefit of its riders. 

Although the idea of privatization and commercial operation is attractive at first sight, the realities are different.  

 A profit making enterprise does not have service provision as its first motivation, it has profit.  Public transport systems require massive upfront capital costs (digging tunnels, buying trains, buses, cars) which have to be funded in the commercial debt market.  That costs money that would otherwise have gone into providing the transport service.  

 Each individual operator has the overheads of a commercial firm – management, financial accounting, debt, premises, and shareholder dividends.  All of those costs are duplicative and could be eliminated with the creation of a single public operator. 

Coordination of modes of transport

A successful transportation system for a city state requires inter-modal networks.  It is unlikely that your journey can be completed on only one form of transport.  Rail provides efficient transport for longer distances, and buses, trams, and light-rail serve the feeder network that allows people to get very close to their final destination.  Taxis serve point to point journeys that are not served well by public transport, and cater to special needs such as travelling with luggage and those who are handicapped.

Today we have no coordination between the private operators of the rail system, the private operators of the bus services, and the providers of taxi services.  By treating all  as part of one transportation system, a highly effective transport grid can be created.

A little more about taxis

Today in Singapore we have no firms actually providing taxi service.  Instead we have eight rental car companies who provide vehicles to independent contractors, most of whom provide a taxi service.  This is all done on a "best efforts" basis, with the regulator applying some standards for service, which make no sense since the standards are applied to the car rental companies instead of the service providers who happen to be individuals renting cars. 

Some would argue that taxis are not part of the public transportation system, but considering that they provide over 650,000 trips per year, it is hard to accept that view.   

A better solution is to recognize the benefit of a public transport tier that allows for effective use of vehicles and roads and which provides a premium service allowing point to point and hard to reach destinations.  Since this is a premium service, private operators are fine, but they should be licensed and regulated as taxi service providers, not allowed to operate as car rental companies.


The usual objection to having government provide services is that it is effectively a subsidy that will drain the Treasury.   

As I showed at the beginning of this article, the proper role of government is to provide services to the people it serves and who pay taxes to fund the services.  In Singapore, we have a number of sources for government revenue, so the question becomes one of sufficiency.  Does the transport system pay its own way?

Direct fees – the first source of income is the revenue collected from ticket sales.  One could make the argument that this is the best source of funding, since the people using the system should pay for it.   

That sounds plausible until you also consider the cost avoidance implied by a well-functioning public transport system.  Every resident who uses public transport instead of driving a car is reducing the need for roads and parking.  On that basis, there is no need to attempt to cover the full costs of the public transport system directly from its users.  There is a societal benefit that applies to all residents, and this should be shared.

COE and vehicle taxes – The government currently raises S$4.6 Billion from vehicle-related taxes (I can’t make out if this includes ERP and COE – the document refers to Motor Vehicle taxes and Vehicle Quota premiums)   

Suffice to say that the revenue from taxing cars should not go into the general Treasury, but should be directly applied to public transport.  This would provide a more palatable justification for high COE premiums, as the monies collected would be used to invest in a first class public transport system.  Why have the hassle and cost of car ownership if you have an acceptable alternative? 

General taxes – if the direct fees and vehicle taxes are not sufficient to fund the transport system, then use general tax revenues.  Again, public transport is a public good that should be funded by the people for the people.

Singapore is the ideal size and density for a world-class public transportation system that serves its residents well.  That outcome has not been accomplished due to misguided application of open market principles to a natural utility/monopoly.  It is time the Singapore government stepped up to its responsibilities and delivered on the vision.


Monday, February 11, 2013

GV shows butchered version of Good Day to Die Hard

I have just come back from watching what was advertised as A Good Day to Die Hard at GV Gold Class VivoCity

What was presented was a butchered facsimile of the real film.  I don’t understand what GV is thinking by showing such a badly tampered with film – the experience was painful, with dialogue missing or replaced with inane phrases (chia pet, seriously??), and scenes apparently truncated.  The resulting mess was not even coherent.

To be clear, this is the fifth film in the franchise.  I am well aware of what to expect in a Die Hard movie, including violence and coarse language.  That is normally offset by a sense of humour, something that was entirely destroyed by the replacement of the intended dialogue. 

Who does GV/distributor/film censorship board think they are “protecting“ with this inane censorship?   The audience is clearly adult and willing to pay for comfort and quality.  Instead GV delivered crap.  

It is no excuse to say "this is what the distributor provided", which was the response from the on-site manager.  GV owes its primary duty of care to its customers, not the distributor.  If the distributor won’t provide a clean print, don’t show the movie.

I feel completely ripped off.  Instead of an enjoyable night out with my wife, we ended up spending over S$130 on what was a fraud.

I have checked the web site again to confirm that there was no warning that the film being shown was not the original, but there is nothing.

With the increasing dirtiness of the seats and theatres, and now with butchered films, I don’t think we will be customers any longer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Of empathy and bus drivers

In the debate about emotionless Singaporeans, it is useful to have some evidence rather than conjecture. 

I give you the Business Times and reporting on a “strike” by some bus drivers.   

The reporter manages to cover the story without actually talking to a bus driver, which is pretty amazing considering it was a work stoppage by bus drivers. 

We learn that the gentlemen in question were recruited from China on contract, they are not unionized, they are housed in a dormitory, and they are paid S$1,000 per month, which is less than other drivers doing the same job.  This disparity in pay increased after a recent round of pay adjustments, in which the contract drivers did not receive an increase.   

We also learn that the drivers refused to go to work at the beginning of their 4am shift, SMRT management called the riot police at 10am, and talks with the drivers didn't start until 12 hours after the work refusal started..

So those are the facts as reported. 

The total absence of empathy is telling.   

At a time when the government is cutting the number of foreign workers, we find that public transport, run by a government controlled company, is importing workers at low pay.  We learn that the national business newspaper, also government controlled, refers to the drivers as “PRC nationals”, and does not attempt to learn or understand their side of the issue. 

What must it be like to have left your home with the promise of a job in Singapore, and then to find that you are housed in a dormitory, expected to work side-by-side with people earning more than you, and not to get a pay increment in a country with a 5% inflation rate?

Do you feel intimidated when "45 police officers, 3 patrol cars, and 4 special operations command vehicles were deployed" at your dormitory?

We will never know, because these are not people, they are PRC nationals.