Thursday, November 6, 2014

River Commuter Service in KL?

In my recent trip, I was fortunate to stop by London and rode the river commuter service along the Thames, about 10-km ride in approximately 40 minutes (average speed 15kph). It struck my mind that why can't we have such a river commuter system in Kuala Lumpur (KL) areas with Sungai Klang, Sungai Gombak and Sungai Batu as key river-ways?

A similar river trip on Sungai Klang between hypothetical docks near Plaza Tol Puchong Barat and KL Sentral would take about 50 minutes or so (peak-hour driving could easily exceed 90 minutes). The operational cost to transport per passenger would be much lower than other modes. The capital cost to deepen the rivers and increase clearances at bridges and locks could potentially be lower than building new highways or rail routes.

Technical and environmental impact analyses are needed to determine the feasibility of a river commuter system in KL. Historical water level along specific water routes need to be reviewed. Can a similar, high-capacity, catamaran ferry used in London be used on Sungai Klang? Or a lower-capacity, but more versatile hovercraft-like vehicle is more applicable (see example new technology from South Korea)? 

Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat (SPAD) would certainly has the competency to lead such a feasibility study (note that the federal and state Jabatan Pengairan and Saliran - JPS are also key stakeholders). However, SPAD probably need a new mandate to include not just land transport (and drop the "D").

There are certainly benefits to adopt integrated multimodal transportation planning. In the context of intercity travel, a similar planning would determine the optimal mode(s) of transportation (for both passenger and freight) between different cities. For example KL-Ipoh or KL-JB can be better served by rail, so airlines could reduce or eliminate the short, but costly routes. The government can also allocate limited resources more optimally.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to Reduce the Cost of Any 4-Year University Degree by Half

Executive Summary
Imagine that you could take a Physics MOOC or free online course based on the same course and contents at MIT, take a proficiency exam administered by Stanford at a cost of $150 USD, and earn 4 hour credits to be used anywhere. Now imagine you could do that to take 18 courses, pass the associated proficiency exams, and earn enough academic credit hours to transfer as a junior (3rd year student) to the top Civil Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All at a cost of less than $3,000 USD to learn from the best experts in the world, and pass the exams from the best universities on Earth. In addition, you could do all these in your hometown, be it in Chicago, Chengdu, KL, Kodiang, Jakarta, or even Timbuktu.

Impossible? The key ingredients are already out there. Take a look at the list of online courses with complete video lectures from MIT below – this alone could support and satisfy the requirements for an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree. Also, some online and small colleges have experimented with the independent study plus proficiency exam concept for a few courses. The next bold step is to offer the whole package (as shown below as an example) equivalent to the first two years of any 4-year university degree program at efficient, ultra-low cost, but high in quality. This concept could truly be a new disruptive innovation in higher education.
Example Free Courses to Support Independent Study Based
Associate of Science Degree (A.S.)

(All Required, Total 32 Credit Hours)  
Course & Link Hours
Fundamentals of Biology* 4
Introduction to Solid State Chemistry* 4
Calculus I (Single Variable)* 4
Calculus II (Multivariable)* 4
Linear Algebra* 4
Differential Equations* 4
Physics I (Classical Mechanics)* 4
Physics II (Electricity and Magnetism)* 4
(Minimum 12 Credit Hours)  
Course & Link Hours
Introduction to Computer Science and Programming* 2
Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Computer Science I* 4
Probabilistic Systems Analysis and Applied Probability* 4
Engineering Dynamics* 4
Physics III (Vibrations and Waves)* 4
Thermodynamics and Kinetics 4
Circuits and Electronics 4
Mathematics for Computer Science 4
(Minimum 24 Credit Hours, 1 Course per Category)  
Course & Link Hours
Darwin and Design 4
Introduction to Philosophy**
Building Mobile Experiences**
More as new courses become available  
Course & Link Hours
A Global History of Architecture** 4
More as new courses become available  
Course & Link Hours
Principles of Microeconomics* 4
Introduction to Psychology* 4
The Challenge of World Poverty 4
Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies 4
More as new courses become available  
*OCW Scholar Course (recommended among electives)  
**MITx Archived Course  

Hypothetically, a student could choose to pass and combine any different system. One could choose to pass all the science and technology requirements from top engineering schools (e.g. MIT, Berkeley, Illinois etc.), and all general education requirements from top liberal arts school (e.g. Harvard, Columbia). The universities may also employ different strategies to address different objectives to target the underprivileged groups or attract hidden, young talents. Caltech may make its Ph.D qualification exam in Physics available at all test centers around the world – one exam could waive all Physics-related requirements, and offer a non-traditional route to a Ph.D. before even completing the Bachelor of Science degree.

Motivation & Goal
In a long flight across the Pacific last April, I was intrigue by an article in the Economist regarding the return on investment of higher education. Since then I've been thinking about different ways to improve the ROI, especially from the supply side to address the cost element.
Here is my hypothesis: Combining high-quality, free online courses with a rigorous proficiency exam system available at low cost will revolutionize the higher-education landscape in the U.S. and globally by making higher education more accessible at more reasonable cost.
I believe a 50% cost reduction of any 4-year higher education degree program in the U.S. and around the world is an attainable goal. I describe this concept in more detail below using an example strategic plan including the vision, mission, objectives, key initial activities and potential risks (e.g. brand dilution) for a hypothetical university interested to implement the concept:
  • Pioneer and leader in promoting rigorous online academic independent study.
  • To advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship worldwide, and help everyone attains a higher-education credential effectively and cost-efficiently.
  • Offer opportunities to everyone to earn an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree effectively and cost-efficiently to transfer to any 4-year degree program in science and engineering.
  • Develop and administer proficiency-based online Associate of Science (A.S.) degree programs.
  • Identify and organically develop high-quality course materials online and make them available to everyone.
  • Reduce the cost of any 4-year degree program in the world by at least 50%.
Key Initial Activities:
  • Discuss with the Faculty and Board of Trustees to get approval to offer an online Associate of Science (A.S.) degree.
  • Solicit and secure private endowments especially from large educational foundations e.g. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the effort.
  • Work with related academic consortiums or networks (e.g. Transferology™) to ensure academic credit transferability to other universities.
  • Develop and manage a proficiency exam system and collaborations with test centers.
  • Identify and collaborate with international university partners to accept transfer students from the online A.S. program.
  • Develop communications, publicity and marketing plans.
Potential Risks:
  • Granting an online degree, let alone an online associate degree, may dilute a top university's brand. To mitigate this risk the proposed program could be led by an independent entity supported by the top university e.g. a virtual Global campus. The benefit of being the pioneer and leader to revolutionize higher education in the U.S. and globally may outweigh this risk.
  • Different universities could develop a proficiency exam system, come up with a list of approved online study materials, administer the exams, and confer the associate degree. A big-name university may be required on the supply side to induce market confidence and ensure the success of the program. So there is a risk of being left behind by other institution peers.
  • The online associate degree may not receive as wider acceptance as expected for admission to degree programs worldwide. This risk's mitigation strategies may include identifying and partnering with championed universities including existing partners, and to guarantee admission to home campus to students with above 90% or 3.75/4.00 overall grade at the completion of their associate of science studies.
  • Proficiency-based model is exam oriented. Students can cram to study and pass a proficiency exam for a course with an intensive 2-3 week schedule. It's not clear if the students would actually learn, and can survive more dynamic and rigorous technical courses in their following two years to complete their degrees. An alternative is the competency model e.g. by College for America/SNHU that requires students to complete various competency tasks. The competency-based model might not be financially sustainable as it is expected to incur high costs to implement such a subjective assessment system. The proficiency-based model would be more objective in assessing students' performances, and its low cost would enable an implementation over wider market globally.
  • Independent learning requires high self-discipline and basic technical skills, hence not for everyone.
Path Forward
As with my other articles, this is me thinking out loud. Large financial and intellectual champions are definitely needed to hash out the concept. If this idea do have merits, it will be realized sooner or later. I prefer to let the market decide, ideally with some government's encouragement. If not, well, it doesn't cost much to be thinking out loud.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How to Pass the PMP Exam in 10 Days

The summer is officially here. I'm afraid I won't have what Seinfeld's fans called the summer of George - doing nothing and taking it easy for three months. The heavy travel earlier this year from Calgary, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Paris and Colorado Springs in a 5-week period for some reasons let me to conceive several new ideas, mostly related to my career and some revenue-generating business activities. It must have been the frozen cold Calgary, or most probably the Zen time during long flights when I was not bombarded with emails and phone calls.

One of my new projects involve some new ideas to improve my students' job marketability upon graduation. Besides getting their advanced degrees, I will now encourage my students to sit for professional engineering exam and get a certification as Project Management Professional (PMP). I was a guinea pig to test the PMP idea. I started the summer with a 10-day intense journey to prepare and pass the exam. I think it's worth it. I don't need another 3-letter after my name, but my students, or anyone working on project-oriented work should get the PMP credential. In my opinion, it symbolizes the capability to bring calm to chaos (especially to big projects). It signifies a methodical and systematic person capable to work on any project in any field anywhere in the world.

A follow-up project I've been working on over the long weekend is to offer a short-course at to share my 10-day experience to pass the PMP exam. My employer sponsored me to a $1,000 4-day bootcamp to learn about the PMP exam materials. I then found out about a better-quality, on-demand video lectures that costs much less. Nobody should repeat my mistake by wasting $1,000-$2,000 to attend those bootcamps. My Udemy course will offer some guidance to prepare and pass the exam in 10 days at a total cost of less than $300. With a membership to the Project Management Institute, and a fee to take the exam, you could get a PMP credential for less than $800. Since the median annual salary for PMP holders in most countries are well within the 6-figure level in USD, the benefit to cost ratio is tremendous. The course is now available here. As a preview, the 10-day especially the first 4 and a half would be hell. My study plan would require you to read a pretty dry 400+ page guidebook not only once, but twice. You would also solve at least 1,000 multiple-choice questions to prepare for the real exam with 200 questions in 4 hours.   I implement the following SATU ("Sedia-Awal-Tumpuan-Ulangkaji) study technique which I've translated to English and renamed to PrepARe:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Give and Take: A 3-Minute Speech for 2014 Malaysian Graduation Dinner

  • Assalamualaikum and a very good evening to everyone!
  • First, I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate all graduating students.
  • You should be proud of yourself.
  • I know how hard it is to reach this point in your life.
  • It’s a job well done!
  • In previous years, I talked a little bit about the virtues of working hard and dreaming big.
  • This year, I'll briefly discuss the virtue of working together.
  • In a highly competitive world, compounded sometimes by our Asian values, our world is thrived with competitions.
  • We could easily get trapped into the thinking of zero-sum-game; if someone else gets all the pieces of a pie, we'd get nothing.
  • In fact,  if we work together, we could actually expand the size of the pie.
  • We could get a larger amount, even if the percentage might be lower.
  • For example, 1% of 1 million dollars is bigger than 10% of 1 thousand dollars.
  • I'd like to close by sharing some key ideas from a bestselling business book from last year entitled "Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”:
    1. Helping is not the enemy of productivity or success
    2. Helping others could increase our productivity, creativity and innovation.
    3. Last but not least, nice guys can indeed be number one (I'm putting my bet on Shao Shen)
  • With that, congratulations and all the best!
  1. Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?
  2. Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MH370: May God give us strength and guidance in difficult times

My stopover in Malaysia this time around coincides with the most difficult time for the country - the MH370 event (I'm hesitant to call it a crash yet). I'm afraid the large gloomy cloud will linger for quite some times over the previously, relatively unknown nation (I don't have to explain that Malaysia is between Singapore and Thailand anymore to people who has never been to this region).

Tun Mahathir was perplexed that no modern technology could detect the plane. I'm more disturbed with the fact that in this modern era people could vanish after taking a large commercial airline. I'm not alone. I've heard about a number of cancellations to attend international meetings due to the MH370 event. Though, being a Muslim, I believe in fate - we can work hard to change our conditions (God promises to reward hard working), but life and death cannot be changed. When, where and how we die are already predetermined. Being a transportation risk expert, I also take comfort that flying is much safer than driving or walking for that matter.

MH370 will remain a mystery for a long while. The three leading theories and my opinion are as follows:
  • Hostage: The level of expertise in evading the radar requires a very smart group and unprecedented level of secrecy, to a point that I think only a state-sponsored organization is capable. Also, if they are so smart, they would not just let the plane crash. However, if they have landed somewhere the CIA should have already heard the chatter of an airplane sighting or a large group of people being fed in a remote location.
  • Sabotage/Suicide: A crew would simply dive down en-route to Beijing. It shouldn't be any turn back or radar evasion.
  • Catastrophic Accident: A rare condition (Black Swan) led to multiple failures that resulted in a catastrophic event (Perfect Storm). A lost of pressure and oxygen would caused a "ghost plane" after all crew and passengers incapacitated.
I still believe the most likely theory (99.9%) is the catastrophic accident.
Without any confirmed debris, I'd still put a 0.01% likelihood of a hostage. I wish the whole technical report of the satellite data analysis is being made public for scrutiny. It took me more than two years to get a new technical engineering methodology published in a distinguished academic journal. They completed the satellite data analysis using a new methodology and review in less than two weeks. A simple error in using a minus sign would give a wrong conclusion.

I'll leave the country this weekend with a heavy heart. However, I'm truly grateful that I have my love ones. The MH370 is also a reminder that we should always try to have a proper goodbye as you never know if it would be the last one. Ironically, my itinerary back to the States will include a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at 12:25am - the newly numbered MH318. Life must go on.

My thought and prayers to the affected MH370 families and friends. May God give us strength and guidance in difficult times, Amen.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Interpretation of Jamal Abdillah & Malique's Aku Maafkan Kamu

At the age of 12 I was quite obsessed with reading my sister's textbook for SPM's Malay Literary - Bunga Gerimis, Hari Kemerdekaan and Hikayat Umar Umayyah. The first was my favorite with a collection of high-quality modern Malay poetry. It was up to a point that I seriously considered to be a seniman like A. Samad Said.

Anyway, I overheard this song by Malique featuring Jamal Abdillah on the radio. I checked out the lyrics, and it's quite deep and beautiful (this link contains the song and lyrics in Malay:

The first stanza describes a place or more precisely a group of narrow-minded idiots who like to make noise about different issues.

The rest of the song expresses anguish and disappointment to these idiots who are lacked of knowledge, but quick to judge people, or "mengkafirkan" fellow citizens (there were even some religious enthusiasts, regretfully involved some with honorable educated title, who blamed the ignorance to some religious practices in the MH370 tragedy).

Specifics advice from the song includes:
  • We should think before we speak
  • Be quiet (Miranda rights) sometimes is an intellectual virtue
  • Sometimes we just have to pretend listening to some idiots
The song keeps repeating that those idiots are forgiven, but without any prejudice I doubt the sincerity to forgive. I'd question the need to forgive in the first place anyway.

Here is the literal translation of the first stanza:
There is a small house at the end of a village
In the house there is a box under a broken mirror
Inside the box is a coconut shell
Under the shell a frog is shouting like hell
So it's not just describing a frog under a coconut shell, a euphemism for a narrow-minded person. It's more like a triple narrow-mindedness - the frog under the shell inside the box inside an isolated house!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MH370: Imagination running wild, hoping for a miracle

I'm back in KL again for a few weeks after my first stint giving an expert legal testimony at the maple leaf country.

Like most Malaysians, I'm saddened by the MH370 missing. I couldn't imagine how the family members of the passengers and crews are feeling. My thoughts and prayers for them. May we get whatever is the best from God soon, insyaAllah.

My tip of the hat to Datuk Azharuddin for trying his best to lead the whole SAR and public relationship efforts. I bet he didn't realize these fall under his job description. You'd agree that he's much better now in handling the situation and questions as compared during his first day.

We should give him and other government agencies and personnel involved the benefit of the doubt. Strategically located geographically, Malaysia is very fortunate to not have frequent mass disasters. Everything seems ad-hoc in responding to the MH370 missing. Basic crisis management such as being transparent and frank, and the need to dummy down technical information was absence (no need to throw in C-170, Orion etc).

Other countries like the U.S. have tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, snow storms etc. almost every few months. Their government agencies are well experienced to react lo massive emergencies. Malaysia could learn a thing or two, but still deserved the benefit of the doubt in the MH370 case - no one could ever be prepared enough for a major air disaster. The fact of the matter is aviation accidents are very rare.

Wearing my transportation risk expert's hat, considering all the facts, I'm afraid it's just a matter of time before we find the debris.

Wearing my spy-and-war-movie aficionado's hat, I'm hoping for a miracle - the plane could be forced to land somewhere. If you watched "Zero-Dark Thirty" and the old movie "Firefox" you know (at least you think you know) you could duck the radar if you fly a plane very low (that's what the fisherman saw, right?). Not all airports operate 24-hours, so it could be diverted to those small airports, or any large man-made or natural landing strip.

If someone care to investigate this, please don't waste the limited resources, but put a small team with access to civilian and military satellites in the region, identify the appropriate radius based on the plane's available fuel at the last detected location, and look for suspicious activities (or debris, unfortunately) inland.

Unlike the U.S., Malaysia doesn't have the no-negotiation-with-terrorist policy (right?). In addition, I'd be surprised if reinsurance brokers didn't already provide more than USD1 billion to cover the cost of such unlikely event. In theory, one could ask for the moon.

I know my imagination is running wild, but please don't blame me for hoping....

p/s: Alhamdulillah, just landed safely from a MAS Boeing 777-200 in Hong Kong for a short business trip. Happy to report the flight was quite full. Life must go on, and some things are predetermined, insyaAllah.