Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year Eve concert 除夕音樂會

近年來,我在大除夕的節目都是港樂的音樂會。可能年紀大了,狂歡倒數的場合已經受不了。大除夕傳統的音樂會一定是輕鬆熱鬧,多是演奏華爾滋和波爾卡舞曲,小約翰史特勞斯的音樂是首選;再請來一個漂亮的花腔女高音,就是一個歡欣的晚上。今晚〈30號〉提早慶祝,在文化中心聽港樂。

今晚港樂請來奧拉魯特納 Ola Rudner 指揮,又邀請女高音弗蒂高娃 Elvira Fatykhova 贈興。曲目有小約翰史特勞斯 Johanne Strauss Junior 的吉卜賽男爵序曲 Gypsy Baron overture,常動曲 Perpetuum mobile ,維也納森林的故事 Tales from the Vienna Woods 和藍色多瑙河 The Blue Danube,又有莫扎特 Mozart 的費加洛的婚禮序曲 The Marriage of Figaro overture ,白遼士 Belioz 的浮士德的天譴拉高基進行曲 La Damnation de Faust: Rakoczy March,蘇佩 Suppe 的輕騎兵序曲 Light Cavalry Overture 和德伏扎克 Dvorak 的第一號斯拉夫舞曲 Slavonic Dance No.1。

指揮十分鬼馬,正好配合除夕音樂會的氣氛,而所有的樂曲都耳熟能詳,整場音樂會聽來輕鬆愉快,毫無壓力。演奏中又加插團員新年祝賀語,盡攪氣氛。



女高音弗蒂高娃的演出給音樂會畫龍點睛,添加了高潮。她的高音域晶瑩剔透,足可以震裂玻璃。她的演唱功力精湛,快速的裝飾音和琵音都十分流暢。她連 encore 一共唱了五首歌,每一首都技巧艱深。其中選自蝙蝠 Die Fledermaus 的我的好侯爵 Mein Herr Marquis,更是歌劇迷必聽之選。

除夕音樂會又怎可少得 Radetsky March 呢?這首曲就等於在時代廣場齊唱 Auld Lang Syne 慶祝新年。這個習俗由維也納管弦樂團帶起。現時差不多所有除夕管弦樂音樂會都徇眾要求在觀眾拍掌助慶下 encore 此曲。

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Attention deficit trait

A colleague showed me an article on attention deficit trait, or ADT, which gave an explanation on the behaviour of the stressed executives. ADT isn't defined as an illness; it's purely a response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live. People with ADT have difficulty staying organized, setting priorities, and managing time, and they feel a constant low level of panic and guilt. It is possible to control ADT by engineering one's environment and one's emotional and physical health, by getting enough sleep, switching to a good diet, and getting adequate exercise.

The explanation of ADT offers a reason of the craze, or is it popular madness of the day? In this modern and fast-paced world, we are all overloaded with knowledge and information. Because one's brain is unable to digest all the stuff, our brain's frontal lobes lose their sophistication, according to the experts. I do not understand what it means, but the symptoms are very common. The cures proposed are quite sensible. Just note that all these aim to keep you work more effectively and efficiently, instead of staying away from work.

I would like to add a few tips to keep one away from the madness of the modern pace. 1. Do not press the lift button in the lift lobby more than once. We all know that the lift will come with one press. The rest are madness. 2. Do not press the close door button in the lift; the door is programmed to close in a short time. 3. Do not walk on the escalator. The escalator is designed to walk for you, thus the steps are designed in such a way that they are hazardous to walk on. They are too high and the height changes at the beginning and end. You will also disturb others who stay put. But there are many mad people who walk on and keep pushing others aside. 4. Do not click the Internet link more than once. Doing so will not make the webpage load faster, but actually slower because the page have to be reloaded again. 5. Do not click the inbox button of the mailer more than once. One click will load all the mail. New mail will not normally come within a few seconds. These are all my bad habits which I try very hard to beat. Now I know it is not my fault, but the normal ADT that almost all modern men and women have. Old habits are hard to overcome, but special effort made on them are paying off. I now feel a lot better just standing on the escalator.

This reminds me of the Sixty Minutes Plus I saw some time ago. It mentioned a successor to the Generation X: the baby boomer population. Someone called it Generation Y for the population born in the 80s and 90s. It is the spoiled generation and most of them are too much cared for by their parents, schools and the TV. They work and play with computers, surf the Internet, and enjoy very fast communication and entertainment. This generation is brought up in group activities starting from kindergarten, evaluated as members of groups and the team concept is well within them. The observation is that the Generation Y is not as rebellious as those before them. They conform to their ideals and go with the mainstream. The problems with them are that they are unable to think long term. Anything that cannot give instant gratification are boring to them, which is the results of the modern trend of "Instant" everything. They believe that life is good and they will success in their career, but the reality is not the case. I think they will be the victims of ADT.

Institutions did the research on Generation Y with another motive. They worked for big companies and were trying to find out the market environment of the future. The Generation Y is now in the high schools and universities. But companies are preparing marketing strategies for them in the next two decades. Predictions: long term products such as mortgages will be replaced by products with instant results. Advertising for long term penetration will not be successful, rather messages on the Internet, SMS and on-site demo at Generation Y hang-outs are more effective.

I am already feeling a bit old.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

GPS: friend or foe

IT technicians pay high regard to the technical aspect of the technology, while IT managers have a wider vision by taking the management aspect into account. The recent development of the global positioning system is a fine example.

GPS is hailed as the engineering project of the century. The basic principle is simple. Just find three objects of known location. Then, using a simple mathematical principle called trilateration, the location of the observer can be deduced. The challenge of a global system is to let anyone anywhere on earth have information of such three objects. The system is a matrix of 27 earth-orbiting satellites, evenly distributed in fine-tuned orbits that anywhere on earth can have sight of at least three anytime. Another challenge is to find the distance and direction of the three satellites. This is done by receiving digital radio signals sent by the satellites and cleverly doing the maths.

Now that the technicians have done their marvellous job, the managers have to figure out how to use it. The result is: for those with a GPS device, I know where I am, and I know where you are. This location based information has far reaching implications.

The motivation for GPS was military applications. Satellite navigation allows for precision in the delivery of weapons to targets. It also allows military forces to be deployed more easily. The system is now available to the public and has triggered a wide variety of civilian uses, including navigation ranging from personal hand-held devices for trekking, to devices fitted to cars, trucks, ships and aircraft, synchronization of logistics and large operations, location-based services such as enhanced emergency services through cell phones, surveying, search and rescue, geophysical sciences, tracking devices used in wildlife management, and many others.

The gadget became headline when a company launched an advertising campaign. A GPS device was hidden in a cola can in random manner and sold through the normal retail channel. The device was activated when the can was opened. A search team of the company would then follow the location information and reach the owner of the can as fast as they could, and gave him a big prize, plus flashing cameras and microphones. The campaign backfired. The lucky guy who caught by surprise suddenly realized that his whereabout was shown to the world without his consent. Personal privacy has vanished from the world, in that you could buy a GPS device or someone could plant one on you without your knowing.

Another example is the GPS device installed on vehicles for navigation purposes. I saw in movies that such devices are planted by spies on the vehicles of the victims for tailing. The location-based information from cell phones is considered a great help in case of emergency, and people are supposed to be allowed to opt to use this service or otherwise. However, the fact is that the cell phone emits such signal as long as it is turned on. Again, there are common scenes in movies that people are being tracked down this way by the good guys, and sometime by the bad guys.

A few weeks ago, I read an article in Wired News about GPS and privacy. The articles reported on industrial actions against the GPS devices installed in the news trucks of WABC-TV for the deployment of the TV crew. It also reported on the proposal by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to fit cabs with GPS devices. Such devices are also used by UPS, waste disposals companies and logistics companies. We may think that the mobile workforce is best suited to be assisted by such technology, but the protest of employees demonstrated that GPS could be a foe in intruding on personal privacy. The article also reported on remedial measures taken, including raising the awareness of employees by being transparent and providing the necessary training on the capability of the devices. This is a management issue and managers are called upon to walk the fine line of balance. If you are interested, you may wish to click and take a look at the article.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Where is my electronic token?

In this complex world, valuable information and financial data are flowing around in the Internet. Financial institutions, which are known to be the most conservative, cautious and security-conscious beings, have all converted to online money transactions. You may think that security in the public network must have reached a mature and reliable state to enable large sum of money and secret information changing hands. We learned about high level encryption, virtual private network, ultra high temperature firewall, secure sockets layer, transport layer security. However, the cat and mouse game of guarding and hacking is far from over. Cases of Internet fraud and information leaking continue to surface. Major websites, including the high security sites of governments and banks, are being frequently attacked.

To some sociologists, this is a normal phenomenon of social rule making and rule breaking. With all the laws and enforcement agencies, crimes are still being committed. One theory is that we can only keep irregularities under control to a certain extent. A cruel point is that we have to live with, hopefully, a small percentage of disorder.

Still the war wages on. Despite the sophisticated IT security measures developed, some institutions are going back to basics and employed the human factor. The US Securities and Exchange Commission advised financial institutions to introduce two-factor authentication for online transactions. One factor is the security information of an account which includes the user name and the password for you to remember. The other factor is something in possession, like a smart card or an electronic token. The second factor requires a person to carry something actual for the purpose of authentication in order to perform online transaction.

Some banks in Hong Kong have introduced electronic token as the second factor authentication. I have more than one bank account so I have more than one token. Some lucky persons may also have smart cards for authentication; and more tokens for secured access to office systems. It starts off as a novelty and a status symbol. People carry it around their neck and flash it to others as a sign of power, security and confidence.

However, the situation is getting worse. The token emerged as a piece of pendant and gradually developed to a chain of necklace. I hate wearing such ornament and they are also too bulky to be carried en masse in my pocket. So I put them in my drawer. Even in the old days, I had the bad habit of keeping my smart card in my drawer when I left the office. Anyway, the only use of the smart card is in the office for access to my LAN account. Bad guys getting hold of the smart card still do not have the first factor. But ladies and gentlemen, please get rid of this bad habit of security loophole and never let the security guys hear about it.

Now comes the problem with the tokens. Where are they? I remember that I put them in my drawer. But my drawer is quite disorganized with all sorts of stuff. It takes some effort to sieve through the pieces and locate a token. But sorry, this is not the right one. I normally check all my bank accounts twice a day; and so I have to go through such ordeals frequently.

Is there any clever person who can think of a better way? Yes, there is. It is the electronic certificate which can be encoded on a smart card. It can serve multiple purposes of authentication. It is administered by a certification authority and can be recognized worldwide. So let's carry only one smart card with the e-cert as the second factor of authentication and roam the Internet. However, the chaotic world is not that simple. The first hurdle is the card reader which very few people have. It has to be thought of as an essential computer peripheral like the mouse before the smart card can get popular. The second hurdle is that banks are not comfortable with the security of the e-cert, and are scary of the thought that the security of their system has to rely on a third party. As a result, we have to carry the many second factors each issued by someone.

More bad news on e-cert. I just read from the news that the poor certification authority, which is the Hong Kong Post, is losing money on this business. Hong Kong e-cert may face the axe and may disappear from the world if no private enterprise wishes to take over. Come to think of it, how could a private enterprise take over money losing business? Shouldn't the government be running such non-profit making territory-wide IT infrastructure? Come to think it again, the entire government is now using e-cert for its IT security. A private enterprise could just milk this cow by raising the price, and be rich.

But there are really very clever persons who do not believe that a second factor authentication device could do the job. An electronic token system is expensive to maintain. Many financial institutions reported that much resources have to be deployed to set up the system, distribute the tokens and, most of all, maintain customer relations in replacing damaged, lost and expired tokens. Many banks are now using another approach. They think that the information they have on a customer should be put into greater use in improving security. Such information includes the unique characteristics of customers in performing online transactions, such as the location, IP address, type of browser, time of day, and any information which reveals habits and personal traits. All these are readily available in the customer database. Should the system observe that a transaction is initiated from a different IP address, or from another country, or odd hours, or a different computer, or for an extra large amount, or anything out of the ordinary, the transaction is considered suspicious. Extra questions will then be asked, for which answers are only known to the customers, for the transaction to be allowed to proceed. It is like the first authentication factor to the power of 2 and above. Many banks consider this a better method which is more secure, flexible and easy to maintain. The artificial intelligence employed can be changed from time to time to avoid spying. Most important, it reduces the effort on the customer side while providing better security and customer service.

There is no such thing as a fool-proof system. But I would appreciate the banks would spare me the trouble of token searching.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Wind turbine

Imagine standing in front of a building of 23 storeys high. It is not a building, but a tall tower with huge fan blades. The sight is impressive and intimidating. It is the new wind turbine of Hong Kong Electric at Lamma Island.

This is Hong Kong's first commercial-scale wind turbine. Construction work is also in progress to turn the site into an education corner for wind power and other forms of renewable energy. The 800-kW wind turbine can generate electricity when wind speeds are in the range of 3 to 25 meters per second. With commissioning scheduled for early 2006, the wind turbine is expected to produce 1GWh of electricity a year. The tower hub is 46m high and the rotor diameter is 50m; so the highest point of the tip of the blade is 71m above ground, slightly higher than a 23-storey building.

Wind power is environmental friendly as it does not consume hydrocarbon and does not emit waste. However, it is difficult for wind turbine to ensure a consistent supply as its operation depends on the strength of the wind. For the time being, it remains supplementary to fire power turbines.

The new plant will blend in with the local environment with light color scheme, while trees and scrubs will be planted in the site area to minimize landscape and visual impact. However, its size and shape are still great distraction to the natural scenery. I saw wind turbine farms outside Los Angeles and Copenhagen. They are all very ugly and dominate the skyline. Furthermore, there are environmentalists lobbying to stall the operation of wind turbine farms owing to their threat to birds. With a rotation speed of 15-24 rpm and a circumference of 157m, the speed of the tip of the blades is about 188 km/h. It is comparable to hurricane speed and is fatal to birds fly-by. Luckily birds can avoid the moving blades and the mortality rate is low, except when the wind turbine is too low as to affect birds preying near ground level, or when it is on bird migrating route where a large number of birds are travelling through.

The wind turbine is located on a small hill behind Yung Shue Wan. It will be turned into a tourist spot next year. I therefore suggest those interested to visit it as soon as possible to avoid the crowd. The hiking to the site is not strenuous and is suitable for the elderlies and children. A trip at leisure pace will take about one hour. For those who are more energetic, the trip can be extended to other parts of Lamma Island; for example, take another hour of hiking to Sok Kwu Wan for a seafood meal. Some tips for the photographers, the viewing point is on the east side of the wind turbine, so the sun will be in your eyes in the afternoon. It is better to visit early in the morning.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Duel 雙提琴組合

可能你未聽過 Duel 雙提琴組合,不過這不出奇,因為他們第一隻唱片剛在去年推出。但他們人氣急升,在歐洲巡迴演出,大受歡迎。今晚(11月5日)他們和香港管弦樂團一同演出。這個音樂會不是管弦樂團的季票節目。我在數星期前才看到宣傳,因曲目很吸引,所以特別買票一聽。

我最想聽的是巴哈的D小調雙小提琴協奏曲 Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor。但這不是 Duel 的拿手好戲。他們的技巧不錯,中規中矩,但尚欠大師風範,演奏起來欠缺韻味。

下半場是 Duel 的成名作品。樂團配合爵士鼓和鋼琴,而兩把小提琴即加上微型米高風,音色自然是大大不同,音響效果甚佳,好似在聽 Hi-Fi。名曲有死神之舞 Danse Macabre,第五號匈牙利舞曲 Hungarian Dance No. 5,戰場上的快樂聖誕 Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence 和幾首探戈舞曲,都是重新編曲而為 Duel 度身訂造的小品,非常討好。Duel 有自己的網頁,有興趣可以登上去聽聰他們音樂的片段。

Duel 的成功,使我想起 Twins 成功的方程式。現今科技進步,大眾通訊發達,藝術推廣另有一番新景象。專業技巧不需要超凡入聖,及格就可以了;只要找到適當的契機,配合型象設計,包裝,宣傳和掌握偶像效應,就可製造出一個短暫的小旋風。我聽說 Duel 早前在 St Paul School 舉行 mini-concert,女孩子們都瘋狂了。今晚完場時年青人都蜂擁而出,去排隊取簽名。

我認為 Duel 的靈魂在其編曲,是湯馬素 Peter Tomasso 的作品。好幾首名曲的精華片段被仔細修改為流行音樂風格的小品,可說是古典音樂和流行音樂的 fusion。這種做法現今很普遍,成功的有 Richard Clayderman, Vanessa Mae, Bond 和 Maksim 等。究竟原裝正版的古典音樂作品和其流行音樂的化身何者更有價值呢?這個議題可能比政改方案更好辯論,亦可能有人正在為此撰寫博士論文。我想舉出一個例子,你想欣賞一園子的玫瑰或是一束玫瑰花呢?在求婚時,你會送九十九枝玫瑰或是會 promise a rose garden 呢?

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Whistle blower 吹雞人

吹雞,球賽中球證行使他的權力。吹雞,召集一班人來協助 完成任務。吹雞,告訴大家一些不公平的事。

三者之中,以最後一種 whistle blower 最為難。通常開始的時候吹雞人都是匿名的,當事情鬧大了很多吹雞人都要曝光。不公平的事大家都想糾正,何不堂堂正正提出來呢?原因多數是犯規者乃是當權者,或者事件本身對機構聲譽 有影響,以致犯規者及其上司都千方百計掩飾,吹雞人的處境可想而知。但當不公平的事被公開又被糾正後,大家都會拍手稱快,吹雞人被視為正義的朋友。其中表表者有 Cynthia Cooper,她揭露 Worldcom 的醜聞;Sherron Watkins 對 Enron 吹雞;而 Coleen Rowley 指出 FBI 的疏忽,以致不能防範 911 事件。這三位女仕因為做了吹雞人而被時代雜誌 Time Magazine 選為 2002 風雲人物。

不過可惜大部分吹雞人的下場都 不是這麼美好。過往的經驗是很多吹雞人曾受到機構不同程度的打壓,包括紀律處分、民事訴訟等。他們僅有的保障是僱員權利和資訊自由法。美國民間正推動成立 National Whistleblower Protection Act 國家吹雞人保護法案 (我譯) ,但前路茫茫,不知何時才有進展。

大部分的吹雞事件卻不是什麼嚴重案件。人力資源專業經理見得最多的其實是員工的投訴,包括程序不當、濫權、人事關係上的衝突、低效率和浪費,大部分都是出 於好意,只希望求個公道,或改善機構營運和工作環境。經理們理應千多萬謝和加以獎勵。但現實並不如此,投訴者和吹雞人的處境都差不多。機構的經理們多視投訴者和吹雞人為麻煩製造者,處理投訴為額外的工作量,而不是理所當然的使用 專業知識,把握改善機構和人事關係的黃金機會。

難怪很多吹雞事件都是匿名投訴。投訴者和吹雞人都有顧慮,雖然理直氣壯,但心理上覺得吹雞可能會對自己帶來不良後果。有些機構明文規定不會處理匿名投訴,一概認定匿名人都是不懷好意。不過你有張良計,我有過牆梯,我見過很多匿名投訴者將投訴信副本公開;如此一來,機構就會面對多方面的質詢。

處理匿名投訴,我相信最佳方法是平常心,和任何投訴一樣全力處理,而且要在保持應有機密原則下盡量公開。另有一派理論,認為應該小心處理對員工的投訴,因為一旦有不合理指控,對員工 關係會有不良影響,工會亦會出面干涉。不過我卻認為可從另一角度看員工關係,大部分員工其實對少數害群之馬非常不滿;如果匿名投訴得到重視,不公平的現象得以糾正,正是大快人心,對員工士氣 大有幫助;反之,機構管治會被視為軟弱,姑息害群之馬,對員工關係損害卻很大。

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Latin passion 拉丁情懷

香港管弦樂團今晚(10月28日)的拉丁情懷音樂會,是情迷拉丁藝術節的一部份。不過可以在音樂廳演奏而為人熟悉的拉丁音樂不算多。管弦樂團可算用心良苦,選奏一些著名作曲家的和拉丁美洲有關連的作品。

第 一首是蓋希文的古巴序曲 Gershwin's Cuban Overture,是蓋希文在1932年訪問古巴兩星期後的作品,可以說是美國人在古巴的感覺。第二首是雷史碧基的巴西印象 Respighi's Brazilian Impressions,是雷史碧基在1927年訪問巴西後的作品。雷史碧基的意大利音象作品羅馬之松和羅馬之泉非常著名,而這巴西印象卻有少許拉丁風 味。第三首是柯普蘭的墨西哥沙龍 Copland's El Salon Mexico。柯普蘭在 1932年旅遊墨西哥,造訪一間舞廳,之後寫了這首作品。我覺得這三位著名作曲家雖然刻意表達拉丁美洲印象,在音樂中加入 Rhumba 和 Tango 元素,但和熱情的拉丁音樂比較仍較拘謹。

終曲是法雅的火祭之舞 Falla's Ritual Fire Dance。這曲不是拉丁美洲音樂,而是西班牙音樂。但可以聯想拉丁美洲近代史,和西班牙殖民的關係,就可知拉丁美洲音樂的強烈節奏感有西班牙的根。火之祭正是如此,其舞蹈節奏比前三首更拉丁。

節 目的精華是兩首手風琴和結他的二重奏,是皮亞蘇拉的手風琴及結他雙協奏曲 Piazzolla's Concerto for Bandoneon and Guitar 和哥比因的往事 Cobian's Nostalgias。這兩位是阿根廷作曲家,兩首作品都極有拉丁風格,舞蹈節奏感極強。第二首更配合現代舞探戈演出。不得不提今晚結他部份由楊雪霏演 奏,她來自北京,在英國深造,現已享譽國際。她的技巧成熟,感情豐富,演出極流暢,為我今晚一大收穫。

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Emperor concerto 皇帝協奏曲

今晚(10月7日)香港管弦樂團在文化中心的音樂會主題是皇帝與新世界,是指貝多芬的皇帝鋼琴協奏曲 Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 Emperor 和德伏扎克的新世界交響曲 Dvorak's New World Symphony,還有一首羅永暉的無極意象。

無極意象可想而知是現代音樂,是羅永暉1996年慶祝區域市政局成立10週年的委約作品。此曲沒有明顯旋律,只有音效,但效果不錯,表達了趙無極抽象山水畫境界,可算是現代音樂成功之作。

皇 帝鋼琴協奏曲由意大利鋼琴家甘柏尼拉 Michele Campanella 擔任獨奏。貝多芬這首降E大調第5號鋼琴協奏曲因其構思宏偉壯麗,內容似在表現王者的威容,所以被稱為皇帝協奏曲。貝多芬把協奏曲華彩樂段風格放到樂曲開 頭,由第一樂章的開始,鋼琴便以飛快的琶音確立鋼琴獨尊的地位。第二樂章細緻動人,鋼琴融入了樂團,配合得非常理想。第三樂章迴旋曲是貝多芬非常出名的樂章,活力非凡。



甘柏尼拉經驗豐富,技巧無瑕可擊。他有長者之風,演出有板有眼,充分表現皇帝的威嚴。但我卻希望此曲的演繹能夠再活潑一些。

新世界交響曲大家都很熟悉了。我較為喜歡的是第一樂章的戲劇性。大家都說第二樂章的主旋律來自黑人靈歌 Swing Low,但我聽來聽去都覺得不一樣,可能是在旋律形態上有少許相似。但這旋律和其後的發展都非常感情豐富和憂怨,切合思鄉之情。第四樂章非常宏偉,但我每次聽到都會想起雷達噴即殺的主題曲,不知這對推廣音樂有無幫助。

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Population

The September issue of Scientific American raised an important issue: Crossroads for Planet Earth. The entire issue is dedicated to this theme. The important message is that we have come to a point where what we do in the next 50 years will drastically affect the future of mankind. The significance is that most of us will witness the change within our lifetime. The topics covered were: population, extreme poverty, sustainability of variety of life, energy with less carbon, agriculture, public health and global economy. Every one of them is a well talked about subject affected by short-sighted politics.

While all these subjects are important, I think they all stem from one problem: too many people. Thus I find the article by Joel Cohen on human population most interesting. There are some facts on demographic.
- By 2000, old people outnumbered young people.
- By 2007, urban people will outnumber rural people.
- Since 2003, the median woman had too few or just enough children to replace herself and the father.

In the 21st century, there will be three unique transitions in human history. First, we are the only generation that lived through a doubling of the human population: from 3 billion in 1960 to 6.5 billion in 2005. The peak annual growth rate was 2.1% occurred between 1965 and 1970. Second, the annual growth rate dropped to 1.2% since 1970. This is the first time in history that the population growth rate was resulted from choices by billions of couples to limit the number of children born. Third, there will be an enormous shift in the demographic balance between the more developed regions and the less developed ones. In 1950, the less developed regions had twice the population of the more developed regions, by 2050 the ratio will exceed 6 to 1.

Joel Cohen mentioned four major underlying trends expected to dominate changes in the human population in the next 50 year: that the population will be bigger, slower-growing, more urban and older.

Scientists estimated that our planet could only provide room and food for about 10 billion people. We now have 6.5 billion people. Assuming that fertility will continue its downward trend, the median projection is 9.1 billion people in 2050. If women had on average just one-half child more than assumed, the 2050 population would be 10.6.billion. Furthermore, if 2005 fertility rates remained constant to 2050, population would reach 11.7 billion. Most of us will witness within our lifetime whether there will be a catastrophe in 2050.

Our problems are not just numbers. The urbanization trend means more people will live in cities which are mainly located in arable, fertile lands or coastal lands which are centres of food production. Urbanization of the population will erode the capability of the planet to produce food.

Another problem is the aging of the population. See this projection of the world population by age group. The change is quite obvious.



Urbanization will interact with the transformation of human society by aging. The mobility of younger and better educated workers often weakens traditional kin networks that provide familial support to elderly people. After 2010, most countries will experience a sharp acceleration in the rate of increase of elderly dependency ratio, i.e. the number of people aged 65 and older to the number aged 15 to 64. This will first occur more acutely in the more developed countries, whereas the least developed countries will experience a slow increase in elderly dependency after 2020.

The economic burden imposed by elderly people will depend on their health, on the economic institutions available to offer them work, and on the social institutions on hand to support their care. Because an older person relies first on his or her spouse in case of difficulty, marital status is also a key influence on living conditions among the elderly. Married elderly people are more likely to be maintained at home rather than institutionalized.

The sustainability of the elderly population depends in complex ways not only on age, gender and marital status, but also on the availability of supportive offspring and on socioeconomic status, notably education attainment. Better education in youth is associated with better health in old age. The strategy to improve the sustainability of the coming wave of older people is to invest in educating youth today, including education in those behaviours that preserve health and promote the stability of marriage. Another strategy is to invest in the economic and social institutions that facilitate economic productivity and social engagement among elderly people.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Africa

The September issue of National Geographic is devoted to Africa. It is nice to have a theme for an entire issue, covering many topics concerning Africa, including a series of aerial photographs, description of Nairobi, oil production in Africa, AIDS problem, conservation of tropical forest, situation in Zambia, and of course wildlife. It gives a focus to the magazine and provides better breadth and depth to its content.

Here is a aerial photograph of a village in northern Kenya, called gobs, built by nomadic Rendille herders, where livestock is protected in circular pens in the middle surrounded by houses.



There is an interesting column in the magazine on human history and the effect of the geography of Africa. It is today's view of the scientific community. You know how science changes daily with new discoveries and theories.

Human history in Africa -
Scientists said that the evolutionary lines of apes and protohumans diverged about seven million years ago in Africa. Such protohumans lived only in Africa for five million years. Around two million years ago, Homo erectus expanded out of Africa into Europe and Asia. During the next 1.5 million years, population in the three continents evolved separately into different species: in Europe, the Neanderthals, in Asia, remaining to be Homo erectus, while in Africa, evolved into Homo sapiens. Between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, Homo sapiens in Africa underwent further profound change. It could be the development of complex speech, or some changes in the brain, or they were given the consciousness by someone supernatural or alien. No matter what, it transformed early Homo sapiens into "behaviourally modern" Homo sapiens. They expanded again into Europe and Asia, and exterminated, replaced or interbred with Neanderthals and Asia's hominids and became the dominant human species throughout the world.

Geography of Africa -
While Africa is the cradle of human, it lagged behind in the development of civilization. Human civilizations started about 10,000 years ago with the coming of agriculture. The domestication of crops and livestock allowed people to settle in permanent villages, to increase populations, to feed specialists such as inventors, soldiers and kings, and to develop metal tools, writing and state societies. However, early agriculture occurred only in limited places with a few types of domesticated crops, mainly in southwestern Asia. Agriculture eventually spread east and west along latitude of similar climate into Europe and Asia, and also the Nile delta. However, the north south orientation of Africa and the difference in climate created a barrier for the domesticated crops to move southwards. It was only after many thousand years that agriculture flourished in southern Africa, but with mostly northern temperate crops brought by European colonists.

In any case, Africa is catching up with its huge resources, in particular its rich oil reserve off the west coast.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Human resource management

Human resource management is a specialized subject in management. It is difficult to manage a large group of people each have a mind of their own. Management of managers is even more difficult. I have some experience in working with a large civil service grade of over 2,000 employees. It is a complicated task in managing such large pool of resources, while looking after the career development of each employee.

In this respect, I have written two papers on the management of this civil service grade. They are now at my website. Those who are interested in management studies please take a look.

Comments are welcomed.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Medium of Instruction

MOI is a big issue in Hong Kong, and also in some multi-lingual countries such as Singapore. But it is not an issue in other places, where there is only one daily language, not necessary English. I read a scientific paper on language and the process of consciousness. It said language is the key to human consciousness. The development of complex language distinguishes modern human being from the ancestral humanoid. The theory is that babies develop their consciousness through communicating with parents. The language ability in the early years determines the mind. It is the hardware that has been hardwired. Some experts said after the child has developed reasoning power, anything he thinks will base on such language. If he then learns a second language, it will be developed on top of the first, with a fast translation going on all the time.

This is the scientific foundation of MOI. When a Chinese student learns science in English, he will automatically translate the English words to Chinese before reasoning. When there is no Chinese word equivalent, the mind will stuck for a while. I always have this problem working in different languages. The mind slows down when I come across a proper noun, or when I am doing mathematics. On fast reading, I am still confused sometimes with the meaning of 100,000 or 100 million in Chinese. I changed to English MOI in secondary school. I recall that I could not understand very simple arithmetic questions set in English. It took me one to two years of dreaming before I caught up, but still in the process of studying in English and thinking in Chinese. If I was taught in Chinese, I could be much better and could become DGG before I retire. It is a miracle that I am now thinking in Chinese and writing in English, still slow after so many years of hard practice.

When I was in EMB, I came across discussions on MOI. It seems nobody considered the scientific factor seriously. The whole thing was turned upside down for political reasons. First, English is important as the world uses it. I wonder how true this statement is. But with USA dominating the world and the British colonial background of Hong Kong, no one asks why the Chinese study in Chinese, French study in French and Spanish study in Spanish, etc. It is true that a lot of people study English as the official and commercial language in Hong Kong. But it is like looking at the sky from the bottom of a well. Chinese has no problem in UN, but English has problem in South America. Another factor comes from parents who need their children to be taught in English, probably not for the good of the children but for the parents. Schools conform to market force. Legislators cry out on the wrong education policies, whatever they are. The bottom line: not enough teachers to teach English. When there are, they failed the Language Proficiency Assessment. I think we need to teach and test mind-crunching subjects in mother tongue, while concentrating on teaching English as a second language.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. Adventures of a curious character
by Richard Feynman, Ralph Leighton, Edward Hutchings




Richard Feynman is a theoretical physicist, Nobel prize recipient on Physics, professor of Caltech, a serious academic. However, he is also a curious character and a man of many talent. This book about him is not an autobiography but are little stories on him throughout his life. There is very little about physics. Rather, it demonstrates Feynman's attitude towards everything around him.

(Picture of a young Feynman opening a safe)



When he was in Princeton graduate college, he was invited to a tea party at the Dean's house. The Dean's wife served him tea and asked "Would you like cream or lemon in your tea?" He said "I'll have both, thank you.", quite absent-mindedly. The response was "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman.", the title of this book.

Feynman is curious, and this may well be an important attribute for learning. The book has detailed description of how he learned to crack safes when he was in Los Alamos participating in the Manhattan project. He learned painting for a while and had his own painting exhibition. When he was in Brazil lecturing, he learned to play frigideira in a samba band and joined the Carnival parade. He also played all-drum music for a ballet performance. With all these talent, he admitted that he did not know painting, and did not know how to read music score.

This demonstrates now one should treat work and other activities as one. There is no such thing as work-life balance for him. He did anything that interested him wholeheartedly, leading to wonderful achievement in both study, work, hobbies and entertainment. It really reminds us that playing out so-called life activities half-heartedly is a waste of time.

There are so many humourous passages in the book and I can only quote a few.

Judging Books by Their Covers.
When he served on an advisory committee on textbooks for the government, a book publisher submitted a volume of three books for evaluation. The last one was incomplete and only the covers with some blank pages were included. To his surprise, Feynman found out that committee members gave good rating to the books, which exposed that they didn't even bother to read them before rating them.

Is Electricity Fire?
He was asked by a group of young rabbis "Is electricity fire?" He was glad that the theology academics were interested in physics and went on to explain the phenomenon. However, it turned out that the rabbis were trying to abide by the doctrine that they should not use fire on Sundays and thus wanted to know if this should include all electrical appliances. Quite a disappointment for him to find out that the rabbis were not modernizing but just trying to follow ancient doctrines to the letter.

A Touch of Brazil.
When he did some lectures in Brazil, he was amazed that the students were well prepared for the lectures. They could answer questions on the reading materials right away. However, they could not answer similar but simple questions put in another way. Feynman finally found out that the students memorized all the papers distributed, as well as all the notes of the lectures. They learned without thinking, read without understanding. There is a familiar situation in Hong Kong where students did the same. We also seldom have questions asked, topic discussed, or even intellectual arguments.

Cargo Cult Science.
On scientific studies, Feynman quoted an example. Islanders of a South Pacific Island saw what the army did there in the war: cargo planes landing bringing all sort of good things. A few decades later, they were found constructing long and flat mud strip with torches on both sides mimicking a runway. The leader would sit in a wooden shed, with wooden plates covering his ears like a headphone. They kept doing this but still wondered why the cargo planes never landed. They used accurate scientific observation and imitated the original way to near likeness. But such superficial scientific method without reasoning could not yield any results.

Stories in the book are so diverse and I could only quote 1% of them in the review. You are recommended to take a look.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Robert Moog

Dr Robert Moog, the inventor of the electronic synthesiser, aged 71, died of brain cancer on 21 August 2005

Adapted from the BBC obituary:

His synthesiser, which bears his name, revolutionised music from the 1960s onwards, and was used by bands like the Beatles and the Doors. Today, the electronic manipulation of sound is a ubiquitous feature of popular music. This was not always the case, and Moog was one of the pivotal pioneers of synthesised sound. His instruments transformed pop music during that most revolutionary and experimental of times, the 1960s.



Alongside his hobby, Moog was studying hard. From the Bronx High School of Science, he went on to Queens College, before graduating in electrical engineering at Columbia University and earning a doctorate in engineering physics at Cornell.

Although RCA had already built a musical synthesiser, it was a vast beast, and never intended for sale. What Moog did, in 1964, was to produce and market a practical instrument, a small keyboard synth which could be used with relative ease. Hollywood soon expressed an interest, but it was Wendy Carlos' 1968 Grammy-winning album, Switched-On Bach, which brought the Moog synthesiser to spectacular prominence. Before long many musicians and groups, including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, were using Moog synthesisers. Keith Emerson, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, was the first musician to use one for live concerts. These two photographs show the monstrous Moog synthesiser used in Switched-on and the other the Minimoog model.




But the boom days were not to last. Even though the Minimoog, a stripped-down version of the original instrument and beloved by artists like Rick Wakeman, made waves when it came out in 1970, the writing was on the wall. With interest in purely electronic sound falling, and huge competition from other synthesiser manufacturers, most notably ARP Instruments and Electronic Music Studios, the bottom fell out of the market.

Synthesisers evolved from the analog model of voltage control to digitally controlled model, and then to the wave table model of the modern machines.

Bob Moog sold a controlling interest in his struggling company and, more important, rights to the Moog Music name to a venture capitalist. In 1978, he started a new company, Big Briar, building custom instruments and sound-effect boxes. Even so, many musicians, including Brian Eno, Frank Zappa, The Cure and Fat Boy Slim, sought the Moog sound, keeping it alive, even as analogue synthesisers were wiped-out by their digital cousins. After a lengthy legal battle, Moog reclaimed the rights to the Moog brand in 2002 and began selling instruments bearing his name for the first time in more than two decades.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I Ching 天行健,君子以自強不息

我經常聽到人們互相勉勵,說要自強不息。有時有些人要拋 書包,改說天行健,君子以自強不息。究竟自強 什麼呢?是體魄?是知識?還是修養?這和天又有什麼關係?不如問問無所不知的互聯網。

〝天 行健,君子以自強不息〞 出自《易經》,其在周朝已流 行,主要作占卜之用。《易經》之第一卦 乾 乾為天 龍示變化之象 萬物資始之意。【 象曰 】:天行健,君子以自強不息。大哉乾元,蔭覆無偏,玄運造化,萬物資始,雲行雨施,變化不言,東西任意,南北安然。

乾宮之卦,乾者健也, 健全、健壯,不停地活動。宇宙是不停地活動,不停變化,把原本當作為乾,而六爻作為龍。此卦乃是龍一向潛在池中,剛剛得到了時節,要 登天之象,已往很為困窮,憂愁勞苦,會漸漸轉好,可以升到成功之階段去了,并且此卦是易中第一卦,所以是很尊重的卦,凡貴顯高位之人,或正直而平常對業務 勤勉之人,占此卦都很相宜,但身份下賤或平日怠惰虛偽的人,乃是凶卦,所以得此卦之人,向來正直或熱心業務的,那便上司提拔,可得意外之成功。

雖然易經歷史悠久,但占卜之言,信不信由你。但另 一篇文字卻較為有用:

清 華校訓《天行健,君子以自強不息;地勢坤,君子以厚德載物》。這兩句話是《易經》裡的。比較費解的是《君子以自強不息》。很多人都把它理解成《君子當自強 不息》, 一字之差,差之千里。〝以〞在古文裡是〝用〞的意思。應該是《君子 以之自強不息》,就是君子用了它以後就會自強不息。這裡的〝之〞,就是〝天行健〞。直接翻譯過來就是,天道的運行 是最健康的,君子通過順應這種規律,使自己變得強壯,生生不息,而不是讓君子埋頭苦幹不鬆勁兒的意思。這種處世之道,在古時候幾乎人人都懂,老子不是也說 嗎〝人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然〞。天道運行的規律是什麼呢?做人的規範,可以說是天定的,比如說仁、義、禮、智、信等等。人要真能做到這一點,可 能身體就會很健康。如果能做得更好,就會超越人一般的健 康程度。

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Carpe Diem

I often heard the term Carpe Diem, on many occasions from the religious, and also friends and colleagues. This is a common term which means seize the day, but there is much philosophy behind. Seize what, that is the question. On one hand, it encourages people to treasure time to do meaningful things. On the other, some adopt the attitude of not doing anything but to play for the day. So I ask the almighty Internet for an answer.

Carpe diem is Latin for "pluck the day," meaning "enjoy the moment". It has been translated into English as "seize the day," but carpere means "to pluck." This rule of life can be traced back more than 2000 years and be found in the "Odes" (I, 11.8) of the Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC), where it reads: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero ("pluck the day, never trust the next") It is quoted accordingly either as a demand not to waste somebody's time with useless things, or as a justification for pleasure and joy of life with little fear for the future.

Roman culture and literature had declined thereafter and Europe underwent the medieval period for over 1000 years. Then came the Renaissance with an enthusiasm in the rediscovery of ancient classical texts and learning and their applications in the arts and sciences. Horace's Odes became fashion and influenced poetry of the day. This idea carpe diem was popular in 16th and 17th-century English poetry, made famous by Robert Herrick and William Shakespeare. To go with the culture of the feudal system where kings and nobles were exploiting the mass and lived in luxurious way, carpe diem in poetry also portrayed hedonism.

The most recent fad on carpe diem came from Robin Williams' character as a teacher of a boys' boarding school in the film "Dead Poets Society". Powerful and famous lines were spoken by Robin Williams to the students when he introduced the dead poets to them: "But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - Carpe - hear it? - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."

The moral of Dead Poets Society reminds us to seize each day and cherish them dearly. Every day opportunities await us and we must decide whether to take the chance or play it safe. The main theme was an encouragement to the students to take the risks, for nothing is gained without them. Risks were taken; the result was extraordinary; the film has a sad ending.

To me, the message is simple. If life is short and there may not be tomorrow, then we must seize the day and do the most valuable thing. The most valuable thing is a valuable personal value judgement. While sky is the limit, I think the most immediate valuable thing is to complete the task at hand in the most satisfactory manner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Book Fair was too crowded, so I took a detour to Commercial Press where I could leisurely browse over many books. No surprises at the management book corner, but I got this new book at a discount.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon



This is supposed to be a novel, but the plot is not too complicated. It begins with the main character, Christopher Boone, finding a dog stabbed to death by a garden fork at night in the backyard garden of a neighbour. He played Sherlock Holmes and started to investigate the murder of the dog and went on to discover secrets about his family and experienced an adventure. I shall not tell the ending of the story in case some of you may wish to read this book yourselves.

The value of the book is not the story, but rather the writing style of the author in telling it. Christopher was actually an autistic 15 year old boy who had behavioral problem and attended Special Needs school. He possessed a gift of doing advanced mathematics in his mind, liked red and hated yellow to the extent of eating only red food. He lacked the ability of communicating with other people and lived in a mind of his own. The book was written with Christopher as the first person and he narrated through the book. The readers are actually reading the mind of this autistic child, experiencing how he thought and felt, what his fears were and what calmed him down.

There are some interesting behaviour of Christopher as portrayed by the author. Whenever Christopher came across a difficult word, he would announce the definition of the word openly, which was quite funny in the middle of a conversation. Other people would look at him and wonder why he was stating the obvious. The author skillfully describes how an autistic child reassured himself by repeating known facts and details.

Christopher was unable to distinguish a joke from fact. To him, everything said were taken by face value. As a result, he thought jokes were real and people were really doing such silly things. When he discovered that people did not mean what they said in a joke, he thought they were telling lies. I think the author is trying to use a metaphor to demonstrate the hypocrisy in our daily life, that people said things they didn't mean, or tried to circumvent the true meaning of nasty words. The world is much simpler in the mind of an autistic child.

I recommend this book for leisure reading. It will only take you a short time a day for several days to read it through. Good for reading while commuting. You will be much surprised with the insight into the mind of an autistic child, and how much similarity there are to ourselves.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Civil Service Pay 公務員薪酬

公務員薪酬是否比外邊的人高呢?這不是一個百萬元獎金問題。辦公室助理有一萬,文員有二萬,高級行政主任有六萬。左看右看都比外邊高很多。如以一段長時間 的平均值去比較,甚麼時候公務員薪酬比外邊低呢?返回二十年前,即1985年,公務員薪酬從未比人低。

公務員薪酬為何要比外邊的人高或低呢?出了半斤力,收番八兩就好合理。現行的薪酬調整機制,就是要確保公務員薪酬和外邊一樣。大家會話,人地有雙糧,又有 花紅,點比較。雖知公務員薪高糧準,又無炒友,而且外邊的雙糧花紅,其實比公務員福利已較差。現時高級公務員的負資產樓,政府會俾津貼,多到可以有餘入 袋;送子女留學,政府又會俾教育津貼。現時的薪酬趨勢調查,已確保公務員薪酬調整不會比人低,而各項薪酬組合,如雙糧花紅,都已計算在內。請看看2002年的薪酬趨勢調查報告

為何公務員薪酬會比外邊高呢?原因是在於一個不完善的機制。薪酬趨勢調查是一個 incremental, 或 muddling through, 或胡混過關的機制,它需要一個準確的基數去支持,而這個基數是由薪酬水平調查提供。事關重大,薪酬水平調查成為各方角力之地。早在1986年,顧問們完成薪酬水平調查報告初稿,發現公務員薪酬水平比外邊高出很多。這份稿不被接納,結果 作出很多修改,達致員方可以接受的程度。今年的薪酬水平調查,可能有同樣情況,且看政府有否學精了。

公務員薪酬應否比外邊的人高呢?有說高薪養廉,沒有高薪就沒有廉官。我認為這是貪官的說詞,先收高薪,然後看賄款有多少。方知道高一尺,魔高一丈,高薪一 萬,賄款二萬,高薪十萬,賄款百萬。其實廉潔在心中,不在回報。而且以財制賄,原則上已欠妥。沒有高薪,但有合理薪酬,是否有理貪污呢?適當教育,再加防賄條 例,就已非常足夠。

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Romance 浪漫曲

今晚(6月17日)香港管弦樂團在大會堂的音樂會名為《都會莫扎特》Mozart in the City,主要是因為節目包括莫扎特的第四小提琴協奏曲 Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4。此外,今晚還有海頓的第一O四交響曲《倫敦》Haydn's Symphony No.104 London,和貝多芬的G大調及F大調兩首浪漫曲 Beethoven's Romance in G and Romance in F。

這個音樂會的指揮及小提琴獨奏都是由高利亞.巴列夏 Kolja Blacher 擔任。Blacher 來自德國,在90年代已是柏林愛樂的團長,其後他在指揮及小提琴演奏上雙線發展,今晚更一身兼兩職。獨奏者兼任指揮,在十八世紀及之前非常流行。其後指揮的責任變得重要,對樂曲演繹的藝術層次提升不可或缺,指揮家發展為專門事業,而兼任的情況已較少見。但 Blacher 身為小提琴獨奏家,又是專業指揮家,由其兼任兩職,可算是當之無愧,但又要拉琴,又要指揮,怎樣分身呢?臺上所見,他用盡各種身體語言和樂團溝通,當獨奏段落稍停時,可以用弓作為指揮棒,其他時間就要用頭、眼、身軀來做各種訊號。不過我認為他在排練時已和樂團有很好的默契,而樂團的高水準亦相當重要。請看看這位藝術家的照片。



莫扎特和海頓的音樂很有條理,聽來絕不覺得吃力,主要是因為音樂結構並不複雜,調性清晰,曲式簡單。有人認為他們的音樂潔淨,使人有安全感。今晚他們的兩首樂曲正是如此。尤其是莫扎特的小提琴協奏曲,配合 Blacher 的技巧,極盡視聽之娛。

我今晚選擇這個音樂會,主要是想聽貝多芬的浪漫曲。兩首浪漫曲都是以迴旋曲的曲式寫作,貝多芬以甜美的旋律以及舒緩的和聲,顯示寧靜而和諧的景象。我尤其喜愛F大調第二浪漫曲;慢版的樂章需要較多的時間去嘴嚼,而這首樂曲我在很年輕的時候已開始聽,所以特別有感情。此曲的旋律,正如其名稱,非常浪漫。有人曾說過,音樂旋律喜好非常個人;曾經有音樂雜誌舉辦選舉,想選出最美麗和最受歡迎的旋律,但得不到結果,因為受歡迎的旋律實在太多了。無論如何,F大調第二浪漫曲的旋律,是我最喜愛的旋律之一。浪漫曲的主角,當然是浪漫的旋律,而此曲加上貝多芬的配器,樂團和獨奏配合得天衣無縫。聽完一曲,已醉了。

Monday, June 6, 2005

Warning on RFID misuses

CNet on 27 May carried an article on a report by the GAO of USA on the possible misuses of RFID. Here are some extracts.

GAO, the Government Accountability Office, is the equivalent of the Audit Commission in Hong Kong. It compiles reports similar to our value-for-money audit reports to the Congress. The consequence of these reports are much better than that performed by our Public Account Committee.

RFID is a loose term for the technology that includes battery-powered "active" tags, such as those used in highway toll booths, to "passive" RFID tags that measure a fraction of a millimeter in size. Government agencies are experimenting with passive RFID technology. Among the list of planned or actual uses are: the Department of Defense for tracking shipments; the Department of Homeland Security for immigration and baggage tracking; the State Department for electronic passports; the Department of Veterans Affairs for "audible prescription reading." In addition, the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for designing a standardized ID card that could be RFID-outfitted.

Few privacy concerns exist when RFID is used merely to track warehouse pallets. But when RFID chips are embedded in ID cards or otherwise linked to personal information, the GAO warned, the privacy risks increase dramatically.

Many federal agencies are already using RFID or plan to use it. But only one of 23 agencies polled by the GAO had identified any legal or privacy issues - even though three admitted RFID would let them track employee movements. Radio frequency identification is becoming increasingly popular inside the U.S. government, but agencies have not seriously considered the privacy risks, federal auditors said.

"Key security issues include protecting the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the data and information systems," the GAO said. "The privacy issues include notifying consumers; tracking an individual's movements; profiling an individual's habits, tastes and predilections; and allowing for secondary uses of information."

"Consumers have raised concerns about whether certain collected data might reveal personal information such as medical predispositions or personal health histories and that the use of this information could result in denial of insurance coverage or employment to the individual," the report said. "For example, the use of RFID technology to track over-the-counter or prescription medicines has generated substantial controversy."

A general move towards the use of such technology is now seen in Hong Kong. Many devices are being used in public, and to a lesser noticed extent, in organizations monitoring their employees. The Privacy Commissioner noted the topic of employee monitoring and issued some guidelines. I think there is too little rain despite the thunder as the employee sector is not quite aware of the implication. So it is now left to the goodwill and skills of the managers (EOs) to ensure a balance between employers' interest and the rights of the employees.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Sarah Chang plays Shostakovich 張永宙演奏蕭斯達高維契

張永宙 Sarah Chang,神童,韓裔美少女,小提琴獨奏家,3歲學小提琴,5歲入Juilliard,8歲與著名交響樂團公開演出,9歲灌錄第一張唱片;不過這全都是昨天的新聞。今晚 (5月27日),她和香港管弦樂團合作,在大會堂演奏蕭斯達高維契的第一小提琴協奏曲 Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No.1。



這首樂曲非常艱深,我認為其剛陽的風格對女士是一項挑戰,但 Sarah Chang 選奏這曲,自然充滿自信。先說音色,她拉琴雄渾有力,於第一樂章的慢板旋律表露無遺,深厚的音色,即使在加了弱音器的片段仍可感覺到其威力。第三樂章是此曲的神韻,一段段 Passacaglia 的變奏最後引入極其艱深複雜的華彩樂段,充分表現小提琴獨奏的技巧。



下半場仍然是俄羅斯音樂,是史達拉汶斯基的彼得羅斯卡 Stravinsky's Petrushka。這是史達拉汶斯基繼火鳥之後另一套芭蕾舞劇音樂,這套劇描述木偶 Petrushka 在木偶劇團的遭遇,被劇團主人殺死,最後其鬼魂回來。史達拉汶斯基把俄羅斯節奏的豐富色彩盡納於此芭蕾舞曲之中,聆聽全套組曲,舞劇情節和場景都可以感受得到。

Aging population

The aging problem is a big issue being more and more recognized and put on the agenda of many countries. It may not affect the civil servants of this generation but will affect the progress of mankind. Mckinsey Quarterly ran several articles in its May 2005 issue on the economic impact of the aging population. They can be read at http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com. Here is a short extract:

By 2025, one in five Europeans will be more than 65 years old, up from 16 percent in 2002. Across the continent, the number of working-age citizens will stagnate or shrink while the number of retirees explodes. As a result, household financial wealth, which had enjoyed steady, healthy growth during past decades, will slow drastically over the next 20 years. The slowdown will leave households in three of Europe's biggest economies with a total of more than $4 trillion less than they would have accumulated. Around the world, the picture is similar. If left unchecked, the slowdown in savings and in the accumulation of financial assets by Europe's wealthiest countries could depress investment and economic growth, causing living standards to rise much more slowly. But the economic impact of aging populations could be blunted by raising the savings rates of governments and households and by increasing the returns earned on their savings. These challenges require tough choices today but could ease the pain in the future.

I recall that CS recently addressed this issue and asked whether the policy of family planning should be changed to encouraging families to have three children.

I have a pessimistic view on this subject. I think the root of the problem is the overall unchecked growth of human population to the extent that the earth cannot sustain it. Several decades ago, there were outcries that the birth rate must be checked. Many countries have the one-child policy. How come the situation is reversed on the face of economy instead of eco-sustainability? The economic problem arising from the aging population is of our own making. The measures to raise the saving rates and increase the returns on savings are very limited. Having more children in the next generation will aggravate the problem many folds in the next next generation. The burden of the aged will have to be borne until there is a change in demographics. To achieve equilibrium, mankind needs to wait until the aged generation passed away gracefully, on condition that the younger generation will be smaller instead of much larger. Then the demographics will show a larger proportion of the earning working age. My pessimistic view is that this will not happen without pain. Short-sighted politicians and economists will push for growth until the economy and the eco-system collapse. Then there will be a catastrophic adjustment. There are many examples in ancient history. We could only hope mankind could survive the change.

More on EGRIN problem

There are different layers of problem on EGRIN. The most obvious one is the quiet EGRIN discussion forum. We can ask what for, and if it is not delivering, why not just scrap it. Still we need to have a better alternative.

Another layer is the entire EGRIN platform which aims at solving a bigger problem: the communication among EOs, not just on the specific post-related matters but as a member of the grade. This requirement has been noted and pursued from the beginning of time. We are proud of the result in the form of the tight network of EOs, fellow EOs, and the backbone of the civil service. However, the modern knowledge-based society and the fast pace of IT networking make the old way fast becoming obsolete. The paper network, grapevine network and one-to-one telephone network are being replaced by the IT communication platform and this is a worldwide trend.

GGO did not lag behind too much and the EGRIN platform was created to address this. I must say EGRIN is quite successful in its role as an information dissemination centre of grade matters. It is still a step behind in elevating itself to an interactive and multi-channel information sharing centre. The EGRIN discussion forum is central to this important upgrade and is therefore worthy of nurturing.

GGO is not the only party to be blamed for the lack of two-way communication in EGRIN. There is also the culture of EOs -> civil servants -> Hong Kong citizens. But GGO has a leading role in promoting change, at least within her own house and within her capability. She is now trying, although IMHO the actions are not effective. There are many easy ways which she hasn't tried. I think one of the major barrier is the deep fear of GGO in getting her policies and actions challenged in public (not too public as EGRIN is a closed site). We all learned that the best way to clear misunderstanding is open communication. But fear is sometimes irrational.

The suggestion on the publication of Keep In Touch is excellent. Many modern publications have migrated to a website, and the mode of presentation changed from a plain 2D cold media to interactive information centre with multi-dimension links. This transition will be difficult for GGO, not because of the technology which can be easily outsourced, but because of the way content and information are managed. There is also the dilemma of opening up the site to the public, and retirees, in that order.

EGRIN problem

I pulled out the management tool book and analyzed our way to solve the EGRIN problem.

The first step I note is denial. We could just simply deny there is a problem. The quiet EGRIN discussion forum is a normal phenomenon which happens in any official forum. The chatting in eo_net is also a normal phenomenon of an informal forum. Luckily we have passed this initial stage, and are wondering how to generate, or kick-start, some mail traffic in EGRIN. We are also trying to generate more traffic on different subjects in eo_net.

The second stage is blaming others. We could think that all these problems occur because of the fault of others. For EGRIN, the first arrow is of course aimed at GGO. GGO also aims her arrows at all EOs who do not write in EGRIN. There are much worries arising from the fault of others. The most prominent one is that GGO will strike back if you say something bad. The root of this thinking stems from our innate fear of the superior power, kind of the survival instinct. There are two weak points to this argument. First, I cannot think of an EO writing something malicious in EGRIN. There may be discerning views. But EOs are skillful writers and we can always express different opinions in a nice, sensible and logical manner. Second, I haven't heard of any real case of GGO persecuting EOs for raising a different opinion. May be it is top secret. If anyone know any inside stories, we would like to hear them and exercise our judgment. So, I am thinking whether the GGO factor is just an illusion.

There are also diverging opinions on how to improve mail traffic. Some said we should write more and improve the quantity first and let quality emerges. Some said we should write less and let others have a chance to write, seems like a quota system to me. If we want to get pass the second stage, we need to get rid of the "others" element. Others have the freedom to do what they think right.

The third stage is blaming ourselves. I think this is a more difficult stage to overcome. Many members have blamed it to our cultural background, our education system, our slavery working environment. The bottom line is that many EOs are afraid to write, or speak, in public for various reasons. This may be a result of all the above factors which led to the present mental state of being indifferent, shy, fearful of losing face and losing security. I heard from some psychologists that the cure is to interact more with others through more work and life activities. Work should come first as the ability and willingness to express nicely a reasonable alternative opinion is a great help in career. Then it should be balanced by life activities, beware of the word balance which does not mean excessive, through communicating actively with family and friends and expressing yourselves. Thus eo_net is a good choice both in work life balance and as a platform of testing your writing, opinions and ideas. We are among friends and in particulars EOs who all share similar working experience.

The fourth and final stage is the real work of problem solving. I think we have done much on this. Surveys have been conducted by both GGO and eo_net. There are also many suggestions for improvement by the departmental secretaries, EGRIN consultative committee, EGRIN steering group. I have also written many times to GGO. For the fourth stage to materialize, the first three stages should first be addressed. GGO, as a bureaucracy, is always considering the suggestions to the end of time. Many big brothers have much experience on this. We now have a new management there, let's see if the bottle can pour out some new wine.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

HKU Museum 香港大學美術博物館

Stephen哥好介紹。我很久已想去香港大學美術博物館參觀,不過總是提不起勁,主要是因為南區沒有直接公共汽車經過般咸道。今天早上決定一試,於薄扶林道巴士站走過去,路程不算太遠。

美術博物館座落般咸道的馮平山樓,以及徐展堂樓底下三層,兩座建築物之間有橋相通,將展廳連貫一起。所有展覽廳加起來的面積都不算太大,兩個小時的遊覽已十分充足,各項展品都可以詳細觀賞。

可能是我運氣不夠好,撞上一個長者觀賞團,博物館擠進了四十多人,非常熱鬧,亦嘈吵不堪;幸好他們行程緊湊,不到半小時就匆忙離去,美術博物館又回復寧靜的環境。

我一入門先看東廊,有饒宗頤和趙少昂的水墨畫,有不少是合作畫。饒宗頤的作品反映其國學造詣,並表現出詳靜、雅鍊的風格。趙少昂的花鳥昆蟲,靈活生動。有數幅饒宗頤的水墨畫,由趙少昂加畫小蟲,非常有趣。








接著上二樓,看荊楚輝煌:湖北省楚文物精品。展品不是很多,但件件都是精品。楚國自春秋時期至戰國時期,即公元前770年至秦朝於公元前220年統一六國止,疆域遍及今天的河南、湖北、湖南多省,距今超過2500年。展品以青銅器和漆器為主,包括一個高逾一米的鹿角立鶴銅像。又有一把相傳是越王勾踐的劍。不過相隔二千多年,劍身竟然光滑閃爍,又居然刻上勾踐自用劍字樣,可能並非原物,而是後世紀念之作。






再過去徐展堂樓,參觀德哥特、高行健、曾海文水墨畫展。高行健為2000年諾貝爾文學獎得主,他以水墨畫法創作抽象畫亦有一手,跨越了中西方現代藝術的界限。

Monday, May 16, 2005

Feynman-Tufte Principle

I read an interesting article on the Feynman-Tufte Principle lately on the visual display of data. The full article can be found online at http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/si_05.

The Feynman-Tufte Principle is invented by the author, incorporating views from Richard Feynman, the master of clear and concise thinking, and Edward Tufte, the master of clear and concise seeing.

Richard Feynman who passed away in February 1988 was one of the most influential American physicists of the 20th century, expanding greatly the theory of quantum electrodynamics. He participated in the Manhattan Project and helped in the development of the atomic bomb and was later a member of the panel which investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 For his work on quantum electrodynamics. He was also famous as an inspiring lecturer. Books on his lectures in CalTech on all aspects of Physics are best sellers. His well-known contribution was the method he developed, which is still used today, to calculate rates for electromagnetic and weak interaction particle processes. The famous Feynman Diagrams he introduced provide a convenient shorthand for the calculations. They are a code physicists use to talk to one another about their calculations. The following is an example illustrating the interaction between electrons and photons.



Edward Tufte is a professor of statistics, graphic design, and political economy at Yale University and an expert on the presentation of informational graphics, such as infographics, charts and graphs. His work is important in such fields as information design and visual literacy, which deal with the visual communication of information. Please see an example of his work on the graphic presentation of weather in Japan.


The connection between the two experts occurred when Tufte was invited to speak at CalTech. He asked to see the van of Feynman which had the Feynman Diagram painted on it. Both persons are experts in the presentation of information. In particular, Tufte has a strong feeling about the inadequacy of slideware. In one his books, he said “Slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis.”

The Feynman-Tufte Principle states that a visual display of data should be simple enough to fit on the side of a van. It refers to the Feynman Diagram which was painted on the side of Richard Feynman's van.

Tufte codified the design process into six principles on how to effectively convey ideas and information at a presentation. I think this may be interesting to managers who are frequently required to make PowerPoint presentations.

There are six principles:

1. Documenting the sources and characteristics of the data,

2. Insistently enforcing appropriate comparisons,

3. Demonstrating mechanisms of cause and effect,

4. Expressing those mechanisms quantitatively,

5. Recognizing the inherently multivariate nature of analytical problems,

6. Inspecting and evaluating alternative explanations.

In short, information displays should be documentary, comparative, causal and explanatory, quantified, multivariate, exploratory, skeptical.

These principles are easy said than done. I think they require in-depth research and deliberation on the subject matter. The basic requirement is that the presenter must have a good understanding of the issues and have considered them in different perspectives, before attempting to design the presentation.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

More Mendelssohn

2005年5月13日,香港管弦樂團在文化中心的音樂會演奏4首樂曲,分別是韋伯的《奧伯龍》序曲 Weber's Oberon Overture,孟德爾遜的小提琴協奏曲 Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto,夏布里耶的《西班牙》 Chabrier's Espana 和法雅的《三角帽》 Falla's Three-cornered Hat。音樂會就命名為孟德爾遜小提琴協奏曲,可知這曲就是音樂會精華所在。

這首孟德爾遜最著名的作品,大眾都耳熟能詳。此曲在1845年首演,160年來歷久不衰,是幾首最為人喜愛的小提琴協奏曲之一。這晚擔任獨奏的小提琴手是慧雲哈娜 Viviane Hagner。這位來自德國的小提琴神童,13歲就已成名。她現在已20多歲,不再叫神童,但她身材纖瘦,看起來仍然十分年輕。就這首小提琴協奏曲的優柔味道,她站出來已使人覺得人曲相配合。她拉琴的豐富而甜美的音色,加上超凡的技巧,使這晚上此曲的演繹有上乘的水準。



下半場氣氛驟轉,全都是西班牙音樂。西班牙語彙以管弦樂表達別有一番風味,除了加入一些有特色的敲擊樂器之外,管弦樂的節奏和音效都會模擬西班牙民族樂器和舞蹈。夏布里耶樂曲表達西班牙的印象尤其特出。夏布里耶是法國作曲家,以外國人對西班牙的感覺作出描述。雖然西班牙人認為此曲仍缺乏真正西班牙內涵,但它的主要旋律現已成為西班牙的代表,最為人熟悉。

法雅是較新進的西班牙作曲家,在20世紀的初期,受印象派作曲家 Debussy 和 Ravel影響。三角帽是他其中一首代表作。作品用了很多西班牙舞曲形式,與夏布里耶比較,的確更為西班牙。雖然較難欣賞,但此曲在配器和音響效果上都有突破。

Sunday, May 8, 2005

Collapse of Chaos

The Collapse of Chaos
by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart
Sub-title: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World


Jack Cohen is a biologist and Ian Stewart is a mathematician. It is interesting to see the impact of chaos theory and complexity theory to their specialized areas. This book represents thoughts beyond the new science made popular by James Gleick in his far reaching book Chaos: Making a New Science, in which his description of Edward Lorenz's notion of Butterfly Effect dramatically altered the perception of many people from a orderly world to a chaotic world. The overwhelmingly numerous occurring phenomenon of chaos in nature was brought to the attention of the scientific circle. Chaos was found to be actually complexity beyond the comprehension of our mind but there is also naturally emerging simplicity out of the complexity. The collapse of chaos is the path of the development of our thinking from chaos/complexity towards simplicity. The opening of the book presents the intertwining phenomenon of complexity and simplicity.



The first half of the book is devoted to explaining the current reductionist paradigm by which cosmology, evolution and human intelligence are the consequences of lower level and simpler theories of quantum mechanics, chemistry and the genetic code. The content of the chapters on prevailing science is amazingly rich. It gives a concise and clear description of the foundation of modern science. Just these few chapters alone, before examining the authors' arguments on the collapse of chaos, make the money spent on the book worth.

On physics, it is Newton's laws of motion and gravity, Einstein's theory of relativity and also the basis of quantum mechanics, explaining in their own way the cosmos starting from the Big Bang and all the way down to atoms and sub-atomic matter.

On chemistry, it is Mendeleev's periodic table, supplemented by the explanation of electron shells, and also the versatility of the carbon atom which make up the complex hydrocarbon molecules: the origin of life.

On evolution, it's Darwin's natural selection, DNA and the genetic code, and in particular the interaction between genes and the environment.

These are strong illustrations of the complexity around us. The simple rules from our discovery of the laws of nature do not necessarily and adequately explain all the observed occurrences of natural phenomenon. We are therefore living in a chaotic world full of events we do not understand, but we choose to explain a very small proportion of the chanced events which happen to fit our perceived laws.

Science explains complexities as the interaction of a huge quantity of possibilities by finding simple causes which could produce a proportion of the predictable complex effects, and call them the laws of nature. The result is used to explain predicted large-scale simplicities observed, among the complexities. We think that the laws of nature represent the underlying simplicities, and therefore these simple causes produce simple effects, despite complexities involved. However, we ignore the reality that our laws also produce complexities which are not accordingly explainable.

Cohen and Stewart explain that reductionism, i.e. the use of reducing behavior to the interactions of the smallest entity, has brought forth great advances in biology, chemistry, and physics. They believe, however, that the potential of such scientific approach is exhausted.

Starting from the middle of the book, the authors expand the new science of chaos theory and complexity theory to show how inadequate our laws of nature in dealing with complexity which is all around us. Chaos theory, made popular by the butterfly effect on the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, shows that simple causes can produce complex unpredictable effects. Whereas complexity theory suggests the opposite, that complex causes can produce simple effects.

Here, there are two main features emerging from the style of the authors. First, owing to the biology background of Jack Cohen, there are detailed examples and explanations on the complexity of evolution, the embryological growth and the development of consciousness and intelligence. They are eye-openers. Second, the authors introduce a conversation between human: the spaceship crew, and the alien: inhabitants of another planet. The core of the conversation is the difference in culture and the laws of nature between lives in different world. It proposes that our world is not unique and life form in another world may be developed along a completely different path, including the atom composition and DNA composition. The conversation is quite inspiring and humorous. However, it attracted criticism from some reviewers who have expectation of more serious writing from a supposedly science book.

The interaction between simplicity and complexity gradually escapes the paradigm of reductionism and the authors introduce two new terms: simplexity and complicity.

Simplexity refers to the tendency of a simpler order to emerge from complexity. It is the emergence of large-scale simplicities as direct consequences of rules. It covers any features that emerge from sets of similar ground rules.

Complicity is a kind of interaction between co-evolving systems that supports a tendency toward complexity. It is more like convergent evolution: different sets of rules generating similar features. Both concepts of simplexity and complicity bring about a collapse of chaos.

The moral of the book is on the inadequacy of reductionism, building toward the two explanatory principles of simplexity and complicity. For example, one cannot simply map a lower level of organization, such as the DNA code, into a living organism. There is a dynamic in which both content and context are critical.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Transculturation to high Tang

週末到文化博物館看看《走向盛唐》展覽。我一向不大喜歡這個在沙田的博物館,主要是位置不佳,文通亦不方便,從沙田或大圍走過去都是要十五分鐘。每次在此看完展覽都疲憊不堪。現在有了馬鐵,情況較好,從車公廟站走過去五分鐘就可以了。

我農歷年後往西安旅行時曾參觀陝西歷史博物館。西安是秦朝唐朝首都,所收藏的歷史文物以這時期較多。秦朝年代太久遠,陝西一帶出土的文物以唐代墓葬物品最豐富,反映唐朝在中原的成熟文化藝術。

《走向盛唐》展覽的主題略有不同,主要是介紹文化交流與融合,英文叫 transculturation。其中很多展品和展覽的一些重要部份描述西域對中原的影響。一些展品是在長安西面,即絲綢之路南路,武威、張掖和維吾爾族地區的貴族墓穴發現。

請看看以下幾件我覺得有趣味的展品。


這個綠釉陶樓是東漢時期文物,距今有2000年,大約在耶穌講道時,東漢人已在製造這陶樓以作陪葬之用,而陶釉在這久遠年代時已被發明。


這個隋朝的貼金彩繪菩薩石立像有1500年歷史,造工非常精細,衣物裝飾的每一個小節都看得到,石像的面容有一種寧靜的感覺,是出自大師之手。


這一個青釉鳳頭龍柄壺是盛唐時期產品,距今超過1000年。壺身的花紋裝飾很花巧;壺蓋是鳳頭,似公雞頭較多;壺柄是龍,但這非一般的龍我覺得似蜥蜴。

這次展覽康文署算造足功夫,宣傳足夠,支援服務不錯。短短兩小時內,我看見不少導賞隊伍,有長者,小學生和中學生。可能因為是課外作業,學生哥和學生姊都勤力做筆記,又積極發問。
這個展覽曾在紐約大都會博物館展出,在美國社會引起廣泛迴響,吸引了大批藝術愛好者入場觀看。在沙田文化博物館會展出至6月10日。各位如有興趣,請勿錯過。

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Stars of HK Philharmonic

今晚 (22 April 2005) 香港管弦樂團在文化中心演奏四首樂曲,為葛利格的《霍爾堡組曲 》Grieg's Holberg Suite,莫扎特的長笛及豎琴協奏曲 Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp,柏特的《空白石板》Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa 和德伏扎克的三首斯拉夫舞曲Dvorak's three Slavonic Dances。

今次節目為美樂自悠行 Simply Classics,但卻不是全部都簡單,起碼柏特的音樂很現代。音樂會的標題是港樂之星,四位獨奏者都是港樂的首席樂手,有史德琳 Megan Sterling 吹長笛,史基道 Christopher Sidenius 彈豎琴,梁建楓和范丁拉小提琴,今晚他們的演出水準都非常高。



先說 Grieg ,他算是20世紀作曲家,他的 Peer Gynt Suite 家喻戶曉。但 Holberg Suite 完全不是那一回事,因為此曲是紀念200年前的挪威國寶劇作家 Holberg 而寫;Grieg 採用200年前的風格,有 Scarlatti,Bach 和 Haydn 的影子。弦樂慢板是作品重點所在,聽來感覺非常舒服。

Mozart 的音樂不用多說,隨手拿來都是佳作,全都令人心矌神怡。長笛及豎琴的獨奏流暢之至。壓軸樂曲是Slavonic Dances,是 Dvorak 早期成名作品。他使用民族音樂元素,加上精彩的配器,把管弦樂的威力發揮得淋漓盡致。我很小的時候已有 Slavonic Dances 的唱片,今晚重溫這音樂,特別覺得親切。

我從未聽過 Arvo Part 的音樂,他是愛沙尼亞人,在 Tallinn 音樂學院畢業。我去年往 Tallinn 旅遊時亦有參觀這學院的建築。現代音樂對我來說是好壞參半,不竟近代的作品很多還未經過時間的洗禮。 但 Tabula Rasa 確實有驚喜;傳統曲式和旋律都可以免問,音效就是一切。它對雙小提琴的技巧要求很高,而樂團和一個改裝為敲擊聲響的鋼琴提供背景氣氛。第一樂章遊戲,樂團奏出一段段斷續的句子,就像電話短訊,或ICQ短促的文字,而雙小提琴在這基礎上奏出飛快和廣闊的琵音。第二樂章靜默,雙小提琴從很高的音域的泛音開始,慢慢地移動到最低音區,再交棒給大提琴和低音大提琴。每隔很多小節,鋼琴會敲出一個和弦,像遠方的雷聲,間中打破靜默。言語很難表達這些印象,如果你有興趣,可以找找 Naxos 的 CD 8.554591,是 Arvo Part 的 Tabula Rasa 和 Symphony No. 3。

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Contactless chips

An article in Wired News on 29 March 2005 on contactless chips caught my eye. It so happened that the US government is going to implant such device in passports and in the employee ID cards of the Department of Homeland Security, the anti-terrorism body. In a slip of tongue, the press release on the device mentioned that contactless chips, or proximity chips, are just another name for RFID. I have been following the RFID/privacy issue for quite some time. Those interested are welcomed to take a look at my earlier reading notes.

Conspiracy theorists and civil libertarians are very worried about the intrusion on personal privacy as a result of the use of these chips. RFIDs are now widespread in many merchandises. The purpose is to link up goods with the production, inventory, wholesale and retail systems with a view to better management and cost savings. The big worry is that RFID left on goods such as garments can be detected unnoticed and then linked up with credit card records, thus rendering the personal information and the whereabouts of a person being captured by others.

The latest contactless chips carry more information such as biometrics for accurate identification of a person. It is very useful in passports and I envisage that it will soon be extended to all sort of identity cards, HKIC included. The issue of security has been raised, especially on the employee ID card of government agents. The good news is that the Homeland Security Department's employee ID card will use state-of-the-art authentication and encryption systems to protect the department and its employees from identity thieves and spies with unauthorized RFID tag readers. The bad news is that chips on passports will not have any of those digital security features because the passports need to be compatible with as many reader devices used by other countries as possible.

RFID manufacturers are typically making radio tags for ID documents that comply with ISO/IEC 14443, the contactless chip industry technology standard. This standard limits transmission ranges to a distance of about 4 inches. Other RFID tags can be read at distances up to 30 feet, making them easier targets for identity thieves trying to capture their data. However, some tests have demonstrated that electronic eavesdroppers up to 30 feet away can capture data (including biometric records) while it is being sent by the chips to an authorized reader device. Furthermore, a Tel-Aviv University study revealed that ISO/IEC 14443-compliant chips can also be read directly over much longer distances by specially built devices.

I am interested in the RFID issue mainly because of its implication on HRM. I consider it is a duty of the HR manager to ensure that an organization make good use of the personal information of its employees while at the same time protect their personal privacy. As employee monitoring devices get more common, this will be an essential area in staff relations and staff management where managers (aka EOs) can specialize and contribute.

Actually personal privacy is not supreme and we need to release our personal information in order to survive in a community and receive all sort of services. With devices like the RFID, contactless chips, the global wireless network and many connected databases, we can be greeted anywhere by name and offered goods and services of our choice instantly. I saw the sci-fi movie Minority Report where Tom Cruise was greeted by the advertisement signboard as he approached. It recognized his identity and instantly greeted him by name and displayed the preferred advertisement for him. This scenario is not far away. Nowadays, when I visit Amazon.com, I am instantly greeted by name and the front page displays new books related to titles I bought or searched before, all because of the personal information contained in the cookie. Some people still have problem dealing with such services.

There was also an earlier article in Scientific American on considerate computing. An analogy: nowadays, even a public toilet knows that I approach and flushes for me. But my beloved computer still needs some slapping on the face before it wakes up to serve me, and only after suspiciously verifying who I am. Considerate computing starts with giving out your personal information, by RFID for example; then the computer or other computing devices can automatically serve you without requiring you to boot the device or throw a switch. This is not sci-fi. Some modern homes already have such devices. The purpose is to let the computer serves you instead of you serving it first. The catch is that you need to let the computer, and thus the computer network and then the Internet, know your personal information.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

Mendelssohn in Shatin

The Hong Kong Philharmonic played Mendelssohn in Shatin Town Hall last night (1 April 2005). The concert hall, similar to the one in Tsuen Wan Town Hall, was modeled on the design of the City Hall Concert Hall. I love the acoustics of these halls, much better than that of the Cultural Centre. When I lived in Tsuen Wan more than 15 years ago, I went to Tsuen Wan Town Hall often. Shatin Town Hall is a bit far away, but it is enjoyable to spend an evening there once in a while.

Last night was an all Mendelssohn programme with only two pieces: Octet and Scottish Symphony. Mendelssohn is a composer I like, with music easy to listen and digest. He does not look very handsome in my eyes. See this portray below.


This is the first time I listened to Octet, a four-movement work played by eight soloists. It is an amazing experience as I have a favour for chamber music. The eight solo string players produced harmony not as an enlarged string quartet but as a string orchestra. I respect solo players in chamber music more as players in ensemble have others' support while soloists do not.

The Scottish Symphony is more familiar. It is a wonderful work of Mendelssohn. The music paints an image of the vast landscape of Scotland and its rough coastline. There are also images of the majestic castles and soundscape of bagpipes and folk tunes.

It is an enjoyable concert. Anyone lives near Shatin and went to this concert last night?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Albert Einstein

Physics is just an explanation or theorization of the natural phenomenon. There is nothing strange about it when explained. But when any theory in physics was first discovered, no one but the mad scientist himself knew what it was all about. Newton and Einstein were like that at their time. But their theories are understood by many today, and thus entered the university curricula.

Many physicists discovered something important from time to time. But some fantastic physicists would suddenly struck by lightning, or an Act of God, and discovered many wonderful things within a very short time. Annus mirabilis, the miracle year, was first used to describe Isaac Newton in 1665-66, when he developed the theory of Calculus, gravitation and the colour spectrum.

1905 was the annus mirabilis for Einstein, when he published five scientific papers, one as his doctoral thesis and four in Annalen Der Physik. All of them are important theories which have great impact to the development of physics. Now the name Einstein is synonymous to physics, and everyone talk about his theory of relativity and the atomic bomb. Actually his achievement goes much beyond that. Relativity, or rather the unified theory of relativity, is the thing he tried but could not accomplished.

It is now the year 2005. To celebrate the centennial of Einstein's miracle year, physics societies around the world have declared 2005 as the World Year of Physics. This is followed by the UN declaring 2005 as the International Year of Physics. The launching of the year took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris during 13-15 January.

These are the five papers published by Einstein in 1905.

On a new determination of molecular dimensions
This is his doctoral thesis. By considering a collection of sugar molecules dissolved in a glass of water, Einstein derived a mathematical term that measured the speed of diffusion. It was then possible to elicit the size of the sugar molecules by contemplating the diffusion coefficient and the viscosity of the solution.

On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid
Following his study of Brownian motion and using the then-controversial kinetic theory of fluids, he established that the phenomenon provided empirical evidence for the reality of atoms. It also led to the advance of statistical mechanics.

On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light
This is the paper which led to the award of the Nobel Prize. He proposed the idea of photons and showed how it could be used to explain the photoelectric effect. The idea was motivated by the law of black-body radiation by assuming that luminous energy could only be absorbed or emitted in discrete amounts, called quanta. This led to the development of quantum mechanics.

On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies
This is the famous theory of Special relativity. The whole new thinking about moving bodies supplemented, but not overturned, Newton's laws of motion. The idea of time being a dimension triggered a good topic for many science fictions.

Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?
This paper showed a deduction from relativity's axioms and introduced the equation E=MCsquared. Einstein considered this equation to be of paramount importance because it showed that a massive particle possesses an energy, the "rest energy", distinct from its classical kinetic and potential energy. The mass-energy relation can be used to predict how much energy will be released or consumed by chemical and nuclear reactions.

Many people consider that Einstein had supernatural power, or was influenced by alien beings. Actually he was a normal human being, just more clever than us, and had his down time and mistakes. In 1916, he published the paper on general relativity which was an extension on relativity and took into account the effects of acceleration, including the most common acceleration, gravity. The achievement was so great and Einstein was so ambitious that he went on and spent the rest of his life on a unified theory of relativity which could explain all things. He was unsuccessful. However, the quest has motivated many physicists and there are now many who are still working in this direction. Seen in this light, his theory was not overturned, but supplemented and respected by those following.

Einstein was a skeptic of quantum mechanics. It is ironic that his paper on photon emission was a great step in this area. He could not accept the probabilistic, non-visualizable account of physical behavior which was the basis of quantum physics, but looked for a more complete and deterministic explanation.

In 1926, he made a remark that is now famous: "The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice." To this, Niels Bohr, who sparred with Einstein on quantum theory retorted, "Stop telling God what He must do!" The Bohr and Einstein debate on quantum mechanics, the exchange of letters between them, now became the greatest literature on scientific debate of the 20th century.

I subscribed Scientific American. Last year, it dedicated a whole issue to Einstein. There is a good article from the magazine. Those interested may ask me for a copy directly.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Digital photography

A friend said Erwin Puts' recent article on Respect on the Image at the following link is worth reading: http://www.imx.nl/photosite/comments/c006.html

He also said "From my own experience, the casual attitude that one adopts in taking digital photos does degrade the photographic process somewhat. When you can take as many pictures as you like at no extra cost and knowing that you can do so much post-processing with Photoshop, you tend to take less care in framing the image and making sure that the camera settings are correct. With time, you will forget what it is like to make a perfect photo in one take. The creative spirit and respect for the subject matter will be gone. Such is the price we have to pay as we dive into the digital imaginary world, I'm sorry to say."

This is an interesting viewpoint. We see it almost in every change management cases. There are always something to treasure of an outgoing technology or practice. The beauty of film photography will stay forever, but will live another live, in a more artistic rather than technical arena.

The convenience of digital photography, thus leading to a casual attitude in camera setting, is only partly true. What is the cost of an extra negative? I notice that there are many professional photographers shooting one scene with a lot of films, at various angles and with various settings. The permutation of aperture/shutter is limitless and even professionals have to engage the trial and error method. On the other hand, the advance of digital photography has brought much improvement to image making. The process is an integrated one, from camera setting and shooting to post processing, cropping, colour adjustment, etc., all for the ultimate purpose of a perfect image. There is no one single step that is more important than others. At the top, there is still the artistic taste of human that makes the difference.

Erwin Puts is quite right in pointing out that the potential of digital photography lies beyond making an image. His observation of the camera-phone is correct that photo-taking will become a daily event instead of a photographic event. Nowadays, people compose photo diary and record things they do, for the purpose of keeping history, memory, journal etc. Blogs are now full of daily images. Content and convenience are king, not a perfectly calibrated photograph.

As digital photography getting more powerful, film photography will be upgraded to the professional niche, just like black vinyl discs or vacuum tube amplifiers.

Back to the natural phenomenon of change management, there are several examples.

When the ball pen was invented, people said it would affect the ability to write properly and refrain from letting children use them. Now ball pens are everyday tool and the ink brush is used in the fine art of calligraphy.

When the piano was invented, people said it did not have the elegance of the harpsichord which could produce clearer sound. Now the piano is the basis of music making and the harpsichord is only used to play Baroque classics.

When automobile was invented, people said it was too dangerous and did not provide the leisure of riding in a horse carriage. Now we cannot do without automobile, and horses can only be found in Happy Valley.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Flower Show

終於到花展一遊,天氣不錯,略有陽光,但我卻沒有帶相機,對著人工堆砌的植物,總是提不起勁拍照。不過環顧四周,名貴相機可真不少,Canon 1Ds都看見幾架。看著各種插在人工土堆或花盆的植物,有遊覽動物園的感覺;尤其是插花藝術展,活生生的植物都被肢解。我們一向認為植物是次等生物,不過植物亦可能同樣看我們;因為動物連最基本的太陽能也不懂得用,而植物很久很久以前已使用光合作用。

今天早上探訪真正生活的植物,感覺它們快樂得多;請看看幾幅快照。




Monday, March 14, 2005

BookFes 灣仔書節

昨天往灣仔書節一遊,感覺氣氛十分熱鬧。人很多,大人小孩都興高采烈。我覺得這個較貼近群眾的安排比在會展舉行的書展還要好;不需入場費,不用排隊,二三十個展覽商,可以花一兩個小時,精神體力尚可支持。書種很多,香港書、大陸書、台灣書、英文書都有,不過沒有其他外文書。請看以下熱鬧場面。




短短一遊,我買的書比在書展買的還要多。和書展一樣,書商散貨,我們買平書。買了印刷精美的畫冊和歷史書,又找到老夫子再發行版本,連光碟。




書節還有很多節目,這個小女孩在朗誦她讀過的故事書。




我相信書節會在各區舉行。灣仔書節遺憾的是地點太熱鬧了。鄰近是花展,我卻連維多利亞公園也擠不進。遊花展要再等兩天,希望會有陽光。最慘是賓妹和賣手電服務和寬頻上網的人,所有地盤都沒有了,全部人等都要擠在公園和皇室行中間的小小空間。

Monday, February 21, 2005

Gaia Hypothesis

I came across Jim Lovelock's "Gaia - A New Look at Life on Earth" from another book "Complexity - Life at the Edge of Chaos" by Roger Lewin. I bought this book from Amazon.com a few years ago. In the book, Lewin researched on life science and evolution based on the Chaos Theory. He used one whole chapter recording his meeting and the intimate discussion with Lovelock on his 1979 book and the Gaia Hypothesis. Lovelock particularly mentioned a section of the book on how the coming of the Homosapiens has changed the nature of Gaia, the Earth Goddess.

"She is now through us awake and aware of herself. She has seen the reflection of her fair face through the eyes of astronauts and the television cameras of orbiting spacecraft. Our sensation of wonder and pleasure, our capacity of conscious thought and speculation, our restless curiosity and drive are hers to share."


(portray of Jim Lovelock)

The Gaia Hypothesis states "Life, or the biosphere, regulates or maintains the climate and the atmospheric composition at an optimum for itself." It argued that the earth's biological and physical systems are tightly coupled in a giant homeostasis system. Gaia, in the language of complex systems, is regarded as a self-organized, giant self-regulating entity. The hypothesis received a lot of criticism, mainly because it defied the rule of evolution: the process of natural selection. Critics said that Earth could not evolve to such supposed adaptations, as there was no possibility of competition among Earth-like bodies. The notion that life changed Earth in an deliberately adaptive way in order to ensure its own existence was also under attack. People did not accept that there is a purposeful Gaia.

In 1981, Lovelock wrote a computer program of a population biology model, linking population of species with sunlight luminosity and global temperature. The model demonstrated the behaviour of complex adaptive systems, that such systems, like Gaia, were conducive to the emergence of homeostasis mechanisms. There is no need for a purposeful Gaia, or a being of higher intelligence. Gaia is just a complex adaptive system with life playing a part, together with the chemical and physical systems, to maintain an equilibrium for existence. However, the notion that Gaia, or mother Earth, being a superorganism, sentient and able to heal itself is still too much for some biologists.

Lovelock is steering the Gaia Hypothesis to the Gaia Theory. When questions raised by the hypothesis are answered and the theoretical framework is strengthened, the hypothesis will become theory. We shall have to wait and see how things develop. In the mean time, if you are really interested in the subject, try the books I mentioned above.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Planning IT Infrastructure

This is another fine example to demonstrate how IT management work has evolved from the technology-oriented approach a few decades ago to the present day management-oriented approach owing to the growing complexity of the technical details and the high demand of management skills to put the technology to effective use. This has in fact separated the IT technical stream and the IT management stream. EOs as management experts are capable and suitable for the latter.

Colleagues may wish to read the web article "Managing Next-Generation IT Infrastructure" in The McKinsey Quarterly February 2005 at http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com. If you are not a member, just register for a free membership.

Planning IT infrastructure is a big issue in an organization. While there are technicians and vendors proposing technical options, the emphasis on resource management and IT management is enormous. The article declares that the days of building to order are over and the time is ripe for an industrial revolution.

The prime mover is cost. Organizations have worked hard to reduce the cost of the IT infrastructure, i.e. the data centers, networks, databases, and software tools that support businesses. Some leading companies are beginning to adopt an entirely new model of infrastructure management—more off-the shelf than build-to-order. Instead of specifying the hardware and the configuration needed for a business application, developers specify a service requirement; rather than building systems to order, infrastructure groups create portfolios of "productized," reusable services. CIOs must also put in place novel governance mechanisms to deal with capacity planning.

The article advises that, to make sure the new infrastructure is running efficiently and to sustain performance improvements, IT managers should focus on five key areas:

1. Demand forecasting and capacity planning. A key goal of the new infrastructure model is to match supply and demand more closely, thereby minimizing the waste of resources. To achieve this objective, the IT group must work closely with business units in order to forecast demand and thus improve capacity planning.

2. Funding and budgeting. Product demand drives budgets. Since the new model uses real demand forecasts, budgeting is easier. Moreover, with pricing transparency comes knowledge. Business units will now know what their IT choices are going to cost; the infrastructure group will understand the budget implications of user requests and be able to create a more accurate capital plan.

3. Product-portfolio management. The infrastructure team should examine product-portfolio two or three times during the first year to ensure that they are appropriate given projected workloads and emerging end-user needs. Thereafter, a yearly review usually suffices. Teams should monitor all phases of the product life cycle, from planning and sourcing new products to retiring old services and redeploying resources.

4. Release management. To ensure that new technologies or upgrades are integrated effectively and that change causes less upheaval and lost productivity, leading companies carefully manage the release of both infrastructure products and applications in parallel. Moreover, to plan ahead, application developers need to know about any impending change in the infrastructure catalog.

5. Supply and vendor management. IT leaders must ensure that computing resources are available to meet the contracted service levels of product portfolios. Infrastructure managers should revisit their sourcing strategy annually, seeking opportunities to lower costs and improve productivity.

Colleagues will notice that the above principles are familiar management concepts applied to IT. It is not difficult to develop a team of IT professional managers in the grade, but we need to act fast and seize the opportunity quickly.