Thursday, April 12, 2007

RFID Marathon

RFID monitored Marathon races are all over USA. Please see below an extract of an interesting article from CNN. Not for long, Hong Kong Marathon will probably do the same. Then we will know the position of our Marathon lovers along the road and their speed of running as they progress.

Such is the latest use of RFID as a location-based system for identification and much more information. It is really an innovative use which could boost the interest of the public towards the sport. Just imagine that you will receive SMS on the location of your friends in a Marathon race and how well they are doing. This is also good for the race management to identify runners and maintain accurate race records.

The trick is in the shoelaces where RFID tags are embedded. This is quite clever as most Marathon runners wear running shoes with shoelaces (I guess). It is an out of the way device which the runner could barely notice. I wonder if some runners could cheat by switching shoelaces. The second trick is the RFID receivers hidden in rubber mats positioned along the road. The rest is common telecommunication services.

The interesting point is the ability of the RFID receiver which could capture RFID signal from a runner passing at running speed. Contrary to what we heard that RFID in a proximity card could only be read when you voluntarily place the card to a reader, like using the Octopus, RFID receiver could actually read from a distant fast passing object. The RFID tag could be very small, hidden in the shoelaces, with or without your knowing. RFID receivers could also be placed anywhere without your notice. We are carrying more and more RFID with us nowadays, starting from the Octopus, Autotoll, and office access cards. Credit cards and passports are being planned for RFID embedding to increase their security. Many goods sold by Walmart and a number of other large stores are already embedded with RFID. Somebody may have already linked up the RFID data captured in numerous locations.

At the end, I think the development is good for the citizens for the sake of security and customer services. It is better than being video-recorded everywhere you go in London.

CNN 1717 GMT (0117 HKT), April 6, 2007

Tech-savvy marathons keep racers connected with fans

Story Highlights
• Free online tools help spectators track runners
• Runners are provided with RFID chips that attach to shoelaces
• Updates on Web site, cell phone, text message or e-mail
• One of the most tech-savvy races is the Houston Marathon

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Brendan Burke's cell phone was beeping within minutes of the start of his wife's marathon in San Diego. A text message arrived with her latest time as she crossed the six timing mats around the course. It didn't matter that he was across the country at home in New Jersey. Pushing to make the 26.2-mile races more friendly to fans and runners alike, marathon officials are increasingly offering free online tools to help spectators and loved ones back home track runners along courses that can span entire cities.

During the April 16 Boston Marathon the curious can use their computers to check on the progress of up to five runners at a time. Last year, 10,232 Boston marathon runners, or about half, signed up for alerts, up from 9,836 in 2005. In Chicago, meanwhile, fans can stop by participating Starbucks coffeehouses along the course and ask marathon volunteers with laptops to look up runners on the spot.

Runners are provided with radio-frequency identification chips that attach to shoelaces. As they cross large rubber mats along the course, a radio transmitter inside the chip sends a unique ID number to an antenna, which routes the information to a central database. From there, depending on which options a runner has chosen, the information is sent to the cell phone or e-mail address on file. Elapsed time: two to four seconds. New York started using the chips seven years ago to track its runners for timing and online viewing of an athlete's splits. Today, transmitters send automatic updates to the address of your choice.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

The world is flat for Burberry

Whether you accept it for its virtue or reject it for its evil deed, the world is flat because of the present level of improvement in transportation and communication, making goods, services and information travelling freely around the world. There are profound changes and the human kind has to learn to adapt to it. When the world is not flat, by the laws of physics, such resources could only flow between terrain. That means there are powers aggregated at certain high locations, making free flow of resources difficult.

Now that the world is flattened in the sense of modern technology on speed and movement, we can expect resources to be distributed evenly around the world. For the sociologists, it is a world of sharing and everything is available to everybody. All men on earth are equal and we equally share the fruits of the world and also the demise.

Things are not that simple. There are tribes living in the terrain with their livelihood protected by the uneven ground. There are major forces against the flattening of the world. First, some people fight back fiercely for their survival as their niche of existence is being destroyed when resources flow in. Second, some people with vested interest build fences around their territories to prevent their resources from flowing out and other resources from flowing in. As the wheel of change progresses, such barriers are being taken down. Important things that need to be done now are the protection of people from being hurt along the way.

In the span of just a few days, I read from BBC news the continued flattening process. Extract of two articles are appended below. The first one is the free trade agreement between USA and South Korea, and the second one on the closure of the Burberry factory in Wales owing to offshoring.

Korean farmers put up a fight around the world to protest against the trade agreements of WTO. Korean rice market is threatened by the import of USA rice product. However, imported rice is cheaper and the Korean population benefit from such imported product. Similarly, imported beef is also cheaper than local beef. On the other hand, unrestricted export of Korean cars, TV sets and mobile phones will bring expansion to Korean economy. The choice of a flat world is obvious. The buffer now introduced is that rice tariffs are retained for the time being. It may buy some time for the Korean rice farmers to adapt to the change.

While people have sympathy on the Korean farmers, UK citizens are dealt a blow by the flattening. The 60 years old Burberry factory in Wales closed down in March, making 300 workers out of a job. The production is moved to factories in Spain, Poland, Portugal and China. Burberry is a famous British garment brand. The product is quite up-market and pricey. Quality and tradition are prime considerations. Not too long ago in the colonial days, Hong Kong people were still fascinated by products of Britain, and Burberry is the garment of choice for the middle class. Now Burberry yields to the reality and moves to locations of cheaper production cost, comfortably accommodating the risk to its prestigious brand name, quality and British tradition. This means the world is flattened to the extent that not only materials and labour are freely available everywhere; but the craftmanship and quality assurance can be adequately maintained; and brand names are going international. Chinese goods used to be considered substandard some years ago. Now international brands are setting up production plants in China. They do not risk their products. These international companies have the confidence in product quality, and will take sufficient steps to ensure it. As a result, the flat world also enables the transfer of corporate governance and quality control along with technology transfer.

BBC Monday, 2 April 2007

US and S Korea agree trade deal

The US and South Korea have reached a free trade agreement after 10 months of intensive talks. The deal, which requires legislative approval, is the largest the US has signed since the 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement. Both countries were keen to reach an agreement, believing it will boost trade and economic growth. However, rice imports will not be included in the deal after Seoul objected to opening up its market. Fears that Korean farmers could be harmed by the abolition of rice tariffs led to nationwide protests against trade liberalization over the past few months.

Key elements of the deal - Cars: Korean firms such as Hyundai and Kia will get more access to US consumers. Technology: Korean TV manufacturers and mobile phone firms may benefit from lower taxes. Agriculture: The deal could hit Korean farmers as duties on imported beef are scrapped. But rice imports are excluded

The chief US negotiator said he was disappointed that rice had been excluded from the eventual deal but added he thought further liberalization would take place over time. "At the end of the day I think we resolved that the benefits to be gained from this FTA were so substantial that it was a deal that was worth doing," said Karan Bhatia. South Korean trade minister Kim Hyun-chong described the agreement as the "most important event" between the two countries since their signing of a military alliance in 1953. The Federation of Korean Industries, which represents Korea's largest companies, welcomed the agreement saying it would promote the two countries' economic interests.

Korean concerns

The negotiations were long and protracted and raised heated passions on both sides. Hundreds of South Koreans have protested against the deal, arguing that a glut of US imports would make Korean businesses uncompetitive and threaten their livelihoods. One protester set fire to himself close to the Seoul hotel where the talks have been taking place, while a number of opposition politicians have gone on hunger strike in protest at the proposed move. But President Roh Moo-Hyun said there is majority public support for the deal despite the protests and predicted parliament would pass it. He said Seoul will start discussions over free trade with the European Union by June.

BBC Friday, 30 March 2007

'Emotional' end to Burberry fight

More than 300 workers have made a final march from the gates of a south Wales clothing factory which has closed after 60 years of production. Burberry has closed its plant in Treorchy, Rhondda, after months of protests and negotiations, saying it is not commercially viable. Celebrities had campaigned to keep the factory open, and the closure provoked protests around the world.

Jean Young, who worked at the factory for 25 years, said: "A lot of us have been crying and saying 'so long' to friends we might not see again. We're not all local and although we'll try and stay in touch, we're all going in different directions, some to new jobs, others retiring and some have already left with depression."

The company, which took over the plant in 1989, announced last September it planned to leave Rhondda and move polo shirt production overseas where costs were lower. Treorchy's production will now be shared between sites in Spain, Poland, Portugal and China.

Mervyn Burnett, a senior organiser for the union, said concessions, which include enhanced redundancy payments, long-service awards, and around £500,000 for workforce re-training, were mainly due to campaign efforts. He said although the workers would always resent the company, they had "come to terms" with the closure. "Morale is still good - they're pleased with what the campaign has achieved," he added. Of the 309 workers originally facing unemployment, 175 have already found alternative work. All staff will receive redundancy packages of no less than £3,000.

Liberal Democrat candidate Karen Roberts said: "Yet again it's jobs that have been lost to the area, and what do we replace them with? "How many jobs do we have to lose before something is done?"

A spokesman for Burberry said: "The Treorchy factory will close on 30 March, following a 12-month review from 2005-2006; a thorough consultation process and a three-month extension to the closure date, for employees to be retrained and to allow maximum time for staff to find alternative employment."

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pursuing knowledge

There are many articles in the last few decades on pursuing knowledge as a competitive tool. They contrast sharply with the traditional view of knowledge seeking as self fulfilling. Many philosophers along three thousand years considered seeking knowledge as the end rather than the means. Knowledge had for a long long time been kept high up in the ivory towers. The general population rarely had a chance to get near. This has changed gradually since the invention of the moving press, and now knowledge is freely available to those who could afford the time and effort.

I see a major turning point in Michael Porter who is famous for his theories on competition. His main field of research is on competition among companies, how they achieve competitive advantages and how to accommodate in the competitive environment. These theories are the bible for MBA students and those studying commerce and management. Such thoughts are applied to many self improvement studies. Equipping yourselves and sharpening your saw are important steps towards success in competition.

Nowadays, as academics observed, some people seek knowledge for the purpose of getting credential for competition, in a phenomenon called credentialism. They try to get credentials in the most expedient way. Last week, I had dinner with my PolyU professor. He said many Master degree courses are moving to taught mode as it is popular among students. Dissertation and research work are not necessary. Students just have to complete the taught modules. Professors try hard to help students pass the examinations. Actually, real knowledge starts when it is being used. Getting a degree is no guarantee for that. Getting a second degree or a research degree only helps prepare one to start better. EO as human resource managers will know how recruitment works. Normally, job candidates meeting the minimum academic qualifications are good enough on face value. The selection process aims at relevant working experience and achievement. In selection interview, good human resource managers would avoid asking questions that the candidates could answer citing textbook examples. Rather, situational questions could be asked to test how the candidates apply their knowledge at work.

On knowledge, there is a milestone event in Adam Smith proposing the idea of division of labour, thus applying the knowledge of individuals in their own places. Knowledge would then be needed to secure one's position, compete among peers, and as a tool to move up the ladder. The next big step is the introduction of the motivation theories, thus the knowledge field of human resource management is born.

There are many people who could see through the real purpose of human resource management, that human is a resource to be managed. The ultimate aim is economics, or the maximum utilization of the resources. Adam Smith's theory on fair pay for work done is not sufficient. Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Hertzberg's motivators both advocate exploiting human psychology. They put monetary rewards as low level needs or just hygiene factors. It is the human desire for recognition, love, and power that could be used to make a person work hard voluntarily. Some call it win-win as the employers win with employees working happily. Some call it heartless as employers are exploiting personal feeling for corporate benefits. There is some truth in it. We could just look at the training and development programme. The whole purpose of offering more knowledge to the employees is the furtherance of their value in work.

A by-product of this development is work life imbalance. There are people who are addicted to knowledge of work and become seriously workaholic. There are people who are disgusted and desperately seek other knowledge to the extent that they wander aimlessly in the sea of knowledge. There are also people who have their own purpose of life despite lingering in work irresponsibly for its pay but with their mind and heart elsewhere. Luckily there are also a lot of healthy people who could manage knowledge for work and life, with activities benefiting both sides.