Thursday, 31 October 2013

USA Spying, the Super-Snooper !


The United States is running clandestine communications intelligence facilities at its embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Yangon.

The country is doing so by tapping telephones and monitoring communications networks from electronic surveillance facilities in US embassies and consulates across east and south-east Asia, according to information disclosed by intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden.A top secret map dated August 13, 2010 lists nearly a hundred surveillance facilities worldwide, the map however, shows no such facilities are located in Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and Singapore – the US’s closest allies.

Snoopy the Snooper

According to the map published by Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine today, a joint Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – National Security Agency (NSA) group known as ” Special Collection Service” conducts the sweeping surveillance operation, as well as clandestine operations against specific intelligence targets.The map, which was initially published in full on Der Spiegel‘s website but subsequently replaced with a censored version, lists Special Collection Service facilities at 90 locations worldwide, including 74 manned facilities, 14 remotely operated facilities and two technical support centres.

The map confirms the global reach of US signals intelligence operations with special collection facilities located in most major capitals on every continent.Read the full story here


By Hanin Fadiyah@www.harakahdaily.com

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World Bank ranks Malaysia the world's 6th ease of doing business


KUALA LUMPUR: A World Bank report has ranked Malaysia as the sixth friendliest country in the world to do business, beating developed nations such as South Korea, the United Kingdom and Australia.

In a survey of 189 economies, the “Doing Business Report 2014” saw Malaysia jumping from 12th place last year, and up from 25th when it first joined the survey in 2007.

Countries with high rankings, according to the World Bank website, meant that their respective regulatory environments made it better for local firms to start up and operate.

Business-friendly reforms im­­proved a country’s standing, which Malaysia was noted for.

These included the reducing of company registration fees, which made starting businesses here less costly.

The report said Malaysia also made it easier for people to deal with construction permits by coming up with a one-stop shop. Even getting electricity was a factor.

“Malaysia made getting electricity easier by increasing the efficiency of internal processes at the utility and improving its communication and dialogue with contractors,” it said.

The report included Malaysia as a case study for electronic tax filing and payments.

Despite initial public reluctance, the report said, more people used the e-filing system over time, with businesses aided in the process.

“The time that businesses need to comply with Malaysia’s tax regulations fell from 190 hours in 2004 to 133 hours in 2012,” it said.

The report also found Malaysia ranking highly along specific rankings.

Ranking first in the world, Malaysia tied with Britain for “Getting Credit”, and earned fourth and fifth places for “Protecting Investors” and “Trading Across Borders” respectively.

The report’s findings were welcomed by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapha Mohamed, who said the country had aimed to be in the report’s top 10 list by 2015.

“Soon after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak assumed office, Malaysia was in 23rd place.

“The rise to sixth place is testament to his stewardship and a result of the economic and government transformation programmes,” Mustapa said in a statement.

He added that the ranking helped to reinforce Malaysia’s position as a preferred destination for trade and investments among local and foreign investors.

Singapore was ranked first in the World Bank’s list followed by Hong Kong, New Zealand, the United States and Denmark.

Contributed  by Patrick Lee The Star/Asia News Network

A Malaysian global ambition realised

PEMUDAH or The Special Task Force to Facilitate Business Malaysia’s ambition to be ranked among the top 10 in the world was realised when Malaysia was ranked 6th in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report 2014 (DB 2014), up from 12 in 2013 and 25 in 2007 when Pemudah was established.

Pemudah is a partnership between public and private sectors established in 2007 to improve the ease of doing business in Malaysia and to enhance the nation’s competitiveness.

This achievement is very significant as Malaysia competed with 189 economies to be counted among the best in a race where competition was intense and benchmarks were high.

I would like to share the 6-year journey from 25th to 6th rank in the DB rankings. Pemudah was set up by the then prime minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi mainly to address weaknesses in public service delivery and continuous civil service “bashing” in the media.

He wanted to adopt a fresh approach and saw the value of a joint private-public sector committee in improving public service delivery.

A small group of 23 leaders from both the private and public sectors was appointed to the task force which was co-chaired by the then Chief Secretary to the Government, Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan and me. The vision adopted at the first meeting was to have “a globally benchmarked, customer-centric, innovative and proactive service in support of a vibrant, resilient and competitive economy and society”.

This vision was underpinned by the following values: A sense of urgency, proactive public-private sector collaboration, facilitation, not hampering; no more regulation than necessary; zero tolerance for corruption. We announced our aim was to be among the top 10 most competitive economies globally.

How did Pemudah deliver on the promise? A shared vision, a common multi-agency platform, commitment and clear rules of engagement contributed to delivering the outcomes. Meetings were scheduled at the beginning of the year, fixed on the last Friday of each month, except when parliament was in session when meetings were convened on Tuesdays.

Setting meeting dates early ensured high attendance at meetings where no alternate members were permitted.

The commitment of members was not only confined to the monthly meetings of the task force as Pemudah worked through two main working groups (WG) and more than 10 focus groups (FG) which focused on specific areas.

Each group was chaired either by the public or private sector and reported progress on a monthly basis to the main task force. No allowances of any kind were paid and members contributed voluntarily for the common good.

The WG on Efficiency Issues focused on operational efficiency including licensing, e-payments and immigration-related matters. The WG on Policy Issues deliberated on national competitiveness issues like FIC, liberalisation, education, FTAs, etc.

The FGs covered specific issues like paying taxes, registering property, enforcing contracts, business processes, DBKL to name a few. While membership in Pemudah was confined to appointed members, membership in the WGs and FGs was wider.

To enhance awareness by the business community and citizens, the secretaries-general/heads of ministries/agencies wrote articles in the press and publicised their email addresses to enable direct communications to be direct and instantaneous and the media used to publicise improvements made.

Pemudah was supported by a strong secretariat in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (Miti) that issued minutes of meetings within 48 hours to facilitate quick follow-ups to decisions made.

The key improvements to public service delivery were varied with significant gains registered in many areas. A case in point is the issuance of construction permits, ranked 137th in 2007.

Datuk Arpah Abdul Razak, then director-general of Local Government Department and currently the secretary-general of the Housing and Local Government Ministry, set up one stop centres which allowed concurrent submission of all applications.

The centres then obtained approvals from all technical agencies within a stipulated time-frame. Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib further streamlined the procedures/timelines.

Timelines for approvals were reduced from 420 days to 100 days while procedures declined from 39 to 10. Malaysia’s rankings in construction permits leapfrogged to 43rd in DB 2014.

Another area of significant improvement registered was Trading Across Borders. Miti secretary-general Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria chaired a multi-agency FG comprising Customs, Transport Ministry, Finance Ministry and permit issuing agencies to reduce time taken to import and export though pre-clearance of cargo and reducing documentation for such transactions.

The work of this FG improved Malaysia’s rankings from 46th to 5th in the six years.

In streamlining processes to start and close a business, credit is due to former Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) chief executive Datuk Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil and his team. Today, you can start a business in one hour compared to three days in 2007. In addition, the introduction of the Malaysian Corporate Identity by the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Unit has also contributed to Malaysia’s ranking improving from 71st to 16th in 2014.

The ranking will strengthen further with the impending introduction of a new Companies Act by CCM chief executive Mohd Naim Daruwish that will further reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Malaysia’s ranking in Paying Taxes was 49th in 2007, 15th last year and 36th in DB 2014. Several initiatives were implemented by former Inland Revenue Board (IRB) CEO Tan Sri Hasmah Abdullah and current CEO Datuk Dr Mohd Shukor Mahfar to facilitate electronic services, prompt refunds of overpaid taxes and enhance transparency of the tax process.

Hasmah reported that she received more than 500 messages on the day her email was made public and a special mechanism was set up to allow her to reply to each of them. Such was the commitment of this former civil servant.

Businesses used to complain about the backlog of court cases and often commercial contracts included provisions for determining courts to be in Singapore.

Former Chief Justice (CJ) Tun Zaki Tun Azmi and current CJ Tun Ariffin Zakaria were instrumental in motivating their team to clear the backlog. They also took up Pemudah’s proposal for new commercial courts to be established with a client charter of resolving all new commercial cases within a nine-month period – a timeline that is world class by any standards.

The transformation and improved rankings from 81st in 2007 to 30th in DB 2014 was the subject of a special report by the World Bank on Malaysia as a best practice. Rankings will improve further as the focus moves to the enforcement of judgements.

We have experienced the speed of issuance and renewal of passports, due largely to the work of past and present Immigration directors-general, including Tan Sri Mahmood Adam, who subsequently assumed the position of Home Affairs Ministry secretary-general. He also adopted and adapted Pemudah’s point system for evaluating eligibility for permanent residence and made it easier for foreign spouses and expatriates to work here.

When the proposal to disband the FIC was presented to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, he was decisive. The decision has contributed significantly to improving the investment climate for Malaysia.

The 6-year journey of Pemudah is evidence that with the right focus and right commitment by the right parties, our rankings in world benchmarked public services can be even higher. It also indicates the power of public-private sector collaboration as a common and effective platform in moving the Malaysian development agenda forward.

I wish to congratulate all members of the civil service, past and present and to thank my private sector friends who have contributed to the incredible journey of Pemudah.

A special word of thanks to the former chair, Mohd Sidek, for his strong leadership and for throwing the challenge to be top 10 at us – we have done it in partnership with everyone.

I am confident that Chief Secretary to Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa and the new private sector co-chair, Datuk Saw Choo Boon will be successful in maintaining or improving Malaysia’s ranking with the continued support of the private and public sectors.

- Comment by Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon
Tan Sri Yong Poh Kon stepped down as co-chair of Pemudah in September 2013. He is the current president of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers and the managing director of Royal Selangor.

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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

China demystifying nuclear subs a welcome move




Wide coverage has been given to the Chinese nuclear submarine force in Chinese State media recently, considered to be a showcase of China's strategic master card. China's debut in this field is believed to have deep implication.  

Being confident is of prime importance to achieve military transparency. US submarines are open to visitors, so are parts of the Pentagon. Washington prefers to display power, which will convince the public of the national security while deterring opponents. It obviously believes that core military power being exposed to the public could generate more positive effects, distracting attention from worrying about the "leakage of secrets." 

Chinese understanding of "state secrets" is changing as its military power keeps increasing. On one hand, China is facing a heavier burden of keeping secrets due to soaring external interests on intelligence information about it. On the other hand, it has more room to win strategic gains through actively releasing some information. Is China safe? Are there any external forces daring to risk a strategic showdown with China or radically provoke China over its core interests? Such questions linger on in the minds of the public.

Besides being an economic giant, China is powerful in possessing a ­credible second-strike nuclear ­capability. However, some countries haven't taken this into serious consideration when constituting their China policy, leading to a frivolous attitude ­toward China in public opinion. 

Therefore, partly revealing the Chinese nuclear submarine force is in the interests of China. It could strengthen cohesion of Chinese society and enhance a comprehensive understanding of China. There is necessity that China should summarize its efforts in realizing military transparency and keep on moving forward.

For a modern power, there is rare opportunity to input core military power, which is mainly assuming a deterrent role, into practical war. To build the military we need to ensure its actual combat capacity, as well as convert it into strategic deterrence. Being in a sensitive position in the process of a peaceful rise, China will see a growing demand for strategic deterrence.

The current nuclear capability of China and the world's understanding of it cannot guarantee China's strategic deterrence not to be challenged. The limited number of its nuclear submarines is not enough to quell the idea of damaging China's interest in an extreme way. Jimmy Kimmel's shocking show demonstrates that many people in the West think they can choose to be friendly with China, but they don't have to be.

China needs to make it clear that the only choice is not to challenge China's core interest. To cultivate such thinking, there remains tedious work to do. Developing marine-based nuclear power is part of such work. Perhaps it will give excuse to "China Threat" speculation but the benefit will far eclipse the trouble created by external opinions.

Domestically it is of great significance to open some of the strategic military facilities where the public can have direct access to learn about China's aircraft carrier, missile base or witness a major military exercise. It is a way to help foster people's support for national defense, which is more and more important in modern society.

By Global Times

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

China unveils nuke submarine, moving towards military transparency



http://player.cntv.cn/standard/cntvOutSidePlayer.swf?videoCenterId=8a29d075828644918bbd615daa014703&tai=outSide.english&videoId=20131028102971
http://english.cntv.cn/program/newshour/20131028/102971.shtml

The world has been given a rare glimpse into China's nuclear-powered submarine fleet, with State-owned media carrying extensive coverage of the previously mysterious strategic deterrence force.

The unprecedented revealing of the underwater fleet is a demonstration of China's confidence in its sea-based nuclear strike capability and serves as a deterrent to any attempted provocation amid the changing geopolitical situation, said military observers.

Starting on Sunday, China Central Television carried serial coverage two days in a row on the submarine force of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's Beihai fleet in its flagship news program Xinwen Lianbo.

The People's Daily, the PLA Daily and the China Youth Daily on Monday all carried front-page stories, features and commentaries on the submarine force, applauding its achievements since the launch of China's first nuclear-powered submarine in December 1970.

According to the reports, the idea of building a nuclear submarine was initiated by Chairman Mao Zedong in the late 1950s to break the global military powers' "nuclear blackmailing and monopoly."

In September 1988, China launched a carrier rocket from a nuclear submarine, becoming the fifth country in the world to have the capability of sea-based nuclear strike.

While striving to improve its strike capability, the submarine force has also maintained a good safety record, with no single nuclear accident reported during the past four decades, said the reports.

The People's Daily on Monday hailed the submarine force as "a shield preserving world peace and stability" and "a cornerstone to safeguard state sovereignty, security and development interests."

Du Wenlong, a military expert, told the Global Times on Monday that the latest publicity shows the maturity in the submarine force's sea-based nuclear strike capability, and implies progress in the development of China's new generation of submarines.

According to military observers, the submarines shown in the CCTV report and newspaper photos are the old models, which were put into service in the 1980s. It is reported that the navy is replacing them with Jin-class submarines, and a newer model, the Tang-class, is reportedly in development.

Du said in comparison to foreign submarines, China occupies a seat within the leading group but lags behind the US and Russia in terms of the submarine's noise output and the number of missiles it can carry.

Li Jie, another military expert, shared similar views, noting Chinese submarines still fall behind US and Russian ones, but have better prospects than French and British ones.

The growing capability of the Chinese submarine force is in line with the global emphasis on sea-based nuclear strike capability.

Sea-based nuclear deterrence is more covert, so it gives the countries the capability to launch a counterstrike after their main nuclear bases are destroyed, Li explained, noting its development requires strong comprehensive scientific and technological capabilities.

In addition to the demonstration of more transparency in the military, Li said the revealing of the force is also a deterrent to foreign provocation.

According to reports, during the submarine force's drills, it has repeatedly been tailed and interrupted by foreign ships and aircraft, including one time in international waters in the West Pacific.

"The changing international situation has caused containment to China's growth. The US-Japan alliance and US pivot to the Asia-Pacific both apparently target China. The publicity of the submarine force is a warning to any country that attempts to provoke China, telling them whoever makes the first strike should think about the consequences," Li said.

CCTV commentary said the submarine force has equipped China with a more covert and reliable nuclear counterstrike capability in addition to its intercontinental ballistic missile and strategic bomber, which would make China's rivals abandon their war attempts for fears of the unbearable price they might have to pay.

- Contributed By Yang Jingjie Global Times

Monday, 28 October 2013

Malaysian Chinese Zombie wins the war !

Malaysian-made game a hit in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong

Scary source: Chan’s popular game is based on the 1980s zombie movies. 

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian zombie fans, forget Walking Dead or the Living Dead. There is a new zombie tale in town – the Chinese Zombie War.

According to its creator, Chan Kam Wai, 29, the zombies in this mobile app game are already part of Asian culture.

“They are based on the 1980s zombie movies we used to get from Hong Kong. Do you remember? Unlike the Western zombies, the Chinese zombies hopped around.

“The culture is familiar to many Asians, so when we came across it in our research for possible game ideas, we decided this was the one,” he said.

The familiarity of the horror genre resonated with many, especially from China and Taiwan, making it one of the most successful mobile apps from Malaysia.

The Chinese Zombie War was launched in May and has since become one of the Top 20 most downloaded apps in China.

“We have had more than 250,000 downloads, some 90% of the downloads are from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong,” said Chan.

Now with a second edition, Chinese Zombie War 2, the app game has generated more than RM60,000 in revenue since its launch on the Apple AppStore. It was also one of the top three most downloaded apps in China for three weeks.

The Chinese Zombie War tells of a rookie Taoist priest, Sung, who meets some Chinese zombies in the jungle. At a loss on how to fight them, he is rescued by a beautiful female ghost who trains him to defeat the living dead.

Said Chan: “Asian culture is rich and diverse, so we decided to tap into it and market it globally. Many Westerners accept Eastern culture like the Samurai, Ninja and Kung Fu culture, so it shows that they are interested in Eastern culture but may not be exposed to what else is available. We also wanted something that we could relate to.”

The Chinese Zombie War was developed under the MSC Malaysia Integrated Content Development Programme (Icon), one of the government initiatives run by the Multimedia Development Corp (MDeC) to drive forward the app developing industry in Malaysia.

Since Icon’s launch in 2008, 307 apps have been developed under the programme while some 1,115 people received basic programming training and over 300 were trained on mobile app developing on the iOS and Android platforms.

Unfortunately, the Chinese Zombie War is more the exception than the rule when it comes to local apps breaking into the global or even regional market.

Despite government initiatives to nurture the local app development industry, to date there are only around 680 active Malaysian app developers and some 600 Malaysian apps in the market.

This is only a fraction of the global market; earlier last week, Apple announced that its iOS App Store now has more than 1.5 million apps, which have been downloaded 60 billion times, while some US$60bil (RM192bil) have been paid out to app developers on its platform. There are an estimated 700,000 apps on the Android platform.

The app market boom is expected to grow, and as research firm Gartner estimated recently, the total number of app downloads worldwide will reach 268 billion by 2017.

MDeC Digital Enablement Division director Wan Murdani Mohamad said that about 80% of apps downloaded in Malaysia now are foreign content.

“Malaysians are overdependent on foreign content, so we need to get more local content out. Our local stories, history and culture make the ideal resource for generating content,” he said.

Once a mobile app is in the market, it is already in the global reach, so Malaysian app developers need not worry about making their content “international”, said Wan Murdani.

“You need to have an original idea to be successful as there are many apps out there. Try to globalise local content. Even Angry Birds started as a local app before it hit big.”

Contributed by Hariati Azizan The Star

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Sunday, 27 October 2013

Malaysia's high property taxes may not stop prices going up, sub-sales residential houses likely to soar!


The increase in Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) will dampen speculation but it is unlikely to stop house prices from escalating and may even lead to a rise, say developers and consultants.

Real Estate and Housing Deve­lopers Association (Rehda) president Datuk Seri Michael K.C. Yam said the drastic increase to 15%-30% from 10%-15% previously would discourage any would-be speculator.
 
“Having said that, I have no strong evidence that speculation was one of the main reasons that pushed up property prices. There were some hot spots but it was definitely not on a nationwide basis,” he told The Star.

Property prices in the sub-sale market, added Yam, could increase if homeowners decided to defer selling to avoid the new tax rates.


The sub-sale market, he said, comprised 70% of residential transactions and a decrease in market supply would be inevitable if homeowners delayed selling.

“This means buyers will move to the new properties market and further increase the demand-supply imbalance there. So, a possible side effect is that it could even move prices higher,” he said.

The flat rate of 30% RPGT for six years on foreign-owned properties, said Yam, would also hurt developers during their promotions abroad.

CH Williams Talhar & Wong Sdn Bhd managing director Foo Gee Jen said the doubling of RPGT to 30% would lessen or stop speculation but that in the long-term, this would only make the market more manageable instead of stopping prices from going up.

However, he said limiting foreigners to buying properties worth RM1mil and above should only be applied to major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Penang.

Khong & Jaafar Sdn Bhd managing director Elvin Fernandez said increasing the RPGT at this stage would also arrest undue price hikes, which was usual before the implementation of Goods and Services Tax scheduled for April 2015.

Deloitte Malaysia RPGT leader Tham Lih Jiun said property price escalation was due to other factors besides speculation, including rises in construction cost and building materials as well as land scarcity.

However, Johor Rehda branch chairman Koh Moo Hing said the increase in the ceiling price for foreigners was expected to have a “negative impact” on the state’s property market, calling it “not good news” for Iskandar Malaysia.

 Value of sub-sales residential properties likely to soar

THE market value of sub-sales residential properties is expected to increase in Penang this year.

ERA Malaysia president Dr Lee Ville said this was because there was still a gap between sub-sales pricing and pricing of properties in the primary market.

“For example, the price for a sub-sales condominium in Gurney Drive area is 20% to 30% lower than that of new properties in the neighbourhood.

“Therefore, there is still room for sub-sales pricing to increase,” he said.

Dr Lee added that the sales of most ERA associate members were registered in the sub-sales segment.

He said there was a need in Penang for more properties with 1,300sq ft to 1,400sq ft in built-up area, priced at around RM400 per sq ft.

Dr Lee spoke at ERA’s Malaysia 2013 Business Conference & Gala Dinner held at Flamingo Hotel in Penang recently.

Also present was ERA Malaysia managing director Christopher Lim.

Dr Lee said the demand for properties in Penang had not softened.

“It appears to be so because bank loans are more difficult to secure these days. Some one-third of the housing loans get rejected, affecting the transactions of properties in 2012,” he said.

On the 2014 budget, Dr Lee said ERA hoped the Federal Government would leave the real property gain tax (RPGT) alone.

Meanwhile, Lim said there was no overbuilding of residential properties in Kuala Lumpur.

“There is still a strong demand for properties priced between RM600,000 and RM1.2mil.

“The population in the Greater Kuala Lumpur area, presently standing at about six million, is growing. It is expected to reach 10 million by 2020, so there is a need for more housing,” Lim said.

Sources: The Star/Asia News Network

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Saturday, 26 October 2013

Malaysia Tax Budget 2014 Updates


Malaysia's government moved to allay concerns over its fast-rising debt on Friday, announcing a new consumption tax at a surprisingly high rate, abolishing subsidies on sugar and hiking property taxes to dampen a surge in home prices.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, in his annual budget speech to parliament, announced his government would bring in a goods and services tax (GST) in 2015 at a rate of 6 percent, above market expectations of 4 or 5 percent.

The ringgit currency gained against the dollar in late trade as investors welcomed the tax, which is aimed at broadening the revenue base in a country where only about 10 percent of citizens pay income tax and most of the government's money comes from oil and gas.

Otherwise, Najib announced few major steps to cut subsidies that take up about a fifth of government spending, or deeper reforms such as reducing a bloated, but politically influential, civil service.

Once a high-flying "tiger" economy, Malaysia has become heavily dependent on commodity exports and struggled with low private investment since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, despite a partial revival in recent years.

"The government has decided to implement a fair and comprehensive tax system that benefits all Malaysians," Najib said. "The government believes that this is the best time to implement GST as the inflation rate is low and contained."

Najib was under pressure to take bold steps after Fitch ratings agency in July cut its outlook on Malaysia's sovereign debt to negative, citing poor prospects for reform following a divisive May election.

Malaysian markets suffered a bout of turmoil over the summer as the country's shrinking current account surplus left it vulnerable to fund outflows driven by an expected tightening of U.S. monetary policy.

Most economists said Najib's budget had gone some way to restoring confidence in the government's political will to improve its finances, which has been shaken by a rapid rise in debt in recent years.

"The fact that they took the bold step to introduce 6 percent at the start shows a lot of commitment in reining in the fiscal deficit," said Irvin Seah, DBS economist in Singapore.

"You won't see the full benefit of the GST on the fiscal position at the outset... But in the longer term it will help bolster the fiscal position."

Najib announced a raft of steps to offset the impact of the GST, including exemptions on basic food items and transport and one-off payments to poorer families. He also announced a cut in corporate tax of 1 percent to take effect in 2016.

Ratings agency Standard & Poor's called the budget "a step in the right direction" though it added that the budget proposals did not fully address the weaknesses of high subsidies and poor revenue structure.

"We would have preferred more clarity on say fuel subsidies such as details and timelines," said Selena Ling, head of treasury research at Overseas-Chinese Banking Corp in Singapore.

After securing his power base last weekend in ruling party elections, Najib had appeared to have a freer hand to tackle a high fiscal deficit with unpopular steps.

But having trimmed fuel subsidies by 3.3 billion ringgit ($1 billion) per year shortly the Fitch announcement, Najib only pledged to gradually restructure the subsidy policy.

COOLING PROPERTY BOOM

The government's economic report, released just ahead of the budget speech, said that spending on subsidies, including fuel, would total 39.4 billion ringgit next year, down from 46.7 billion ringgit in 2013.

The abolition of the 0.34 ringgit per kg subsidy on sugar was justified as needed to combat rising rate of diabetes.

In the report, the government maintained its commitment to steadily cut the budget gap, from 4.5 percent in 2012 to 4.0 percent in 2013 and 3.5 percent in 2014.

"We believe that the government has paid heed to increasing criticism by markets and rating agencies, and has followed through after the aggressive fuel subsidy reduction in September," Barclays Capital economists wrote in a note.

The economic report forecast a slight pick-up in GDP growth to 5.0-5.5 percent in 2014 from 4.5-5.0 percent in 2013, underpinned by strong domestic demand. The government expects to narrowly stay within its self-imposed debt limit of 55 percent of GDP next year, forecasting a ratio of 54.7 percent.

To cool a surging property market, Najib announced that the country's property gains tax would be doubled to 30 percent for real estate sold within three years. The minimum value of a property for foreign buyers was doubled to 1 million ringgit.

Malaysian property prices have risen by about a third in the past three years, with even bigger rises in hot spots such as parts of southern Johor state.

The government forecast private investment would rise to 17.9 percent of GDP in 2014, with funds going into oil and gas, textiles, transport equipment and real estate development.

Private investment remains well below levels seen in the 1990s, when it averaged 22.9 percent of GDP annually, but it is recovering from an average of 11.8 percent between 2001-2011.

Following are highlights from Najib's ongoing speech to parliament:

CIVIL SERVICE

* Pensioners will receive a special financial assistance of 250 ringgit to assist them meet the rising cost of living. * Government to give a half-month bonus for 2013 with a minimum payment of RM500 to be paid in early January 2014.

CASH HANDOUTS
* Cash handouts to households with a monthly income of below 3,000 ringgit will be increased to 650 ringgit from 500 ringgit.
* For individuals aged 21 and above and with a monthly income not exceeding 2,000 ringgit, cash handouts will be increased to 300 ringgit from 250 ringgit.
* For the first time, cash assistance of 450 ringgit will be extended to households with a monthly income of between 3,000-4,000 ringgit. rising cost of living borne by the lower middle-income group.
* To implement all cash schemes, government will allocate 4.6 billion ringgit which is expected to benefit 7.9 million recipients.

REAL PROPERTY GAINS TAX
* For gains on properties disposed within the holding period of up to 3 years, RPGT rate is increased to 30 percent.
* For disposals within the holding period up to 4 and 5 years, the rates are increased to 20 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Malaysian property firms with exposure to this tax change include UEM Sunrise, Mah Sing Group and Tropicana Corp .
* Raise the minimum price of property that can be purchased by foreigners to 1 million ringgit from 500,000 ringgit.
* Prohibit developers from implementing projects that have features of Developer Interest Bearing Scheme (DIBS), to prevent developers from incorporating interest rates on loans in house prices during the construction period.
* Financial institutions are prohibited from providing final funding for projects involved in the DIBS scheme. Malaysia's top three banks are Maybank, CIMB and Public Bank.

AFFORDABLE HOMES
* To further increase access to home ownership at affordable prices, an estimated 223,000 units of new houses will be built by the government and the private sector in 2014.
* Companies that specialise in affordable housing development include Hua Yang Bhd.
* Government to allocate 578 million ringgit to the National Housing Department (JPN) for low cost flats consisting of 16,473 housing units.
* Malaysian's government to provide 80,000 housing units with an allocation of 1 billion ringgit under affordable housing scheme. The sales price of the houses will be 20 percent lower than market prices.
* Introduce the Private Affordable Ownership Housing Scheme (MyHome) to encourage the private sector to build more low and medium-cost houses. The scheme provides a subsidy of 30,000 ringgit to the private developers for each unit built.
* Preference will be given to developers who build low and medium-cost houses in areas with high demand and limited to 10,000 units in 2014.
* The scheme is for housing projects approved effective from 1 January 2014 with an allocation of 300 million ringgit.

TAX RELIEF
* Government proposes a special tax relief of 2,000 ringgit be given to tax payers with a monthly income up to 8,000 ringgit received in 2013.

GOODS AND SALES TAX
* To implement goods and services tax (GST) on April 1, 2015 - 17 months from now.
* GST rate fixed at six percent, the lowest among ASEAN countries.
* GST replaces current sales tax.
* Basic food items, transportation services, highway tolls, water and first 200 units of electricity for domestic users per month to be exempt from GST.
* Sale, purchase and rental of residential properties as well as selected financial services are exempted from GST.
* PM Najib: "The reality is that inflation now is low at around 2 percent. The government is confident this will be the best time to impose GST as inflation is minimal and under control."
* Training grant of 100 million ringgit will be provided to businesses that send their employees for GST training in 2013 and 2014.
* Financial assistance amounting to 150 million ringgit will be provided to small and medium enterprises for the purchase of accounting software in 2014 and 2015.

CORPORATE TAX
* corporate income tax rate be reduced by 1 percentage from 25 percent to 24 percent.
* income tax rate for small and medium companies will be reduced by 1 percentage point from 20 percent to 19 percent from the year of assessment 2016.

INCOME TAX
* government to give one-off cash assistance of 300 ringgit to low income households
* personal income tax rates be reduced by 1 to 3 percentage points for all tax payers.
* individual income tax structure will be reviewed
* chargeable income subject to the maximum rate will be increased from exceeding 100,000 ringgit to exceeding 400,000 ringgit.
* Current maximum tax rate at 26 percent to be reduced to 24 percent
* measures to be effective in 2015

SUBSIDIES
* Subsidy programme to be "gradually restructured"
* A portion of savings from restructuring to be distributed in the form of direct cash assistance with the other half to finance development projects.
* To abolish the sugar subsidy of 34 sen effective October 26 2013.

IMPROVING BUDGET MANAGEMENT
* committed to reducing the fiscal deficit gradually, with the aim of achieving a balanced budget by 2020.
* to ensure federal debt level will remain low and not exceed 55 percent of GDP.
* government to conduct audits on projects valued at more than 100 million ringgit during its implementation.

ISLAMIC FINANCE
- Securities Commission to introduce the a framework for Social Responsible Investment (SRI) Sukuk, or Islamic bonds, to finance "sustainable and responsible" investment initiatives.

AGRICULTURE
- Government to allocate six billion ringgit allocated for agriculture programmes.
* Says to 243 million ringgit allocated for rubber, palm oil and cocoa replanting as well as forest plantation programmes. Main plantation companies in Malaysia include Sime Darby , IOI Corp and KL Kepong.

LOGISTICS
- Government to allocate 3 billion ringgit in soft loans under the Maritime Development Fund through Bank Pembangunan Malaysia.
* The fund is to provide financing to encourage the development of the shipping industry, shipyard construction, oil and gas as well as maritime-related support activities.

AVIATION
- To replace existing air traffic control and management system in Subang, a new air traffic management centre costing 700 million ringgit will be built at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
* Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Miri, Sibu and Mukah airports in Sabah and Sarawak to be upgraded with 312 million ringgit allocation.
- Malaysia Airports manages and operates all airports across the country except for one in Johor.

PUBLIC INVESTMENTS
* Public investments to reach 106 billion ringgit. Projects to be implemented include:
- A 316-kilometre West Coast Expressway. Locally listed Kumpulan Europlus Bhd owns 80 percent of the project, while IJM Corp owns the balance 20 percent.
- Double-tracking rail project along west coast Malaysia. The project is carried out by as a joint venture between MMC Corp and Gamuda.
- Various projects from state oil firm Petronas under its 300 billion ringgit capex programme, including a petrochemicals plant in southern Johor state.

INTERNET ACCESS
- To carry out second phase of high-speed broadband project with the private sector involving 1.8 billion ringgit investment. State-linked telco Telekom Malaysia Bhd is involved in the project.
- To increase Internet coverage in rural areas, 1,000 telecommunication transmission towers will be built in the next three years, with an investment of 1.5 billion ringgit.
- To increase Internet access in Sabah and Sarawak, new underwater cables will be laid within three years at a cost of 850 million ringgit.

Reuters

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2. No asset bubble, said Malaysian Central Bank governor 
3. Time for crucial fiscal reforms: Malaysia Budget 2014

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

How To Launch A Startup Without Writing Code

There is an unspoken rule: to launch a startup, you need to build a product, and to do that you need someone that can write code.

Whether that means chasing down a technical co-founder, learning to code, or even building that "Lean MVP" - the conventional wisdom is that without tech abilities you're nothing more than a dude (or dudette) with a Powerpoint.

A growing number of startups, however, are quietly disproving this assumption.

They're getting their first customers with minimal technology, and often no code at all. Instead of building fancy technology from the outset, they're hacking together inexpensive online tools such as online forms, drag-and-drop site builders, advanced Wordpress plugins, and eCommerce providers.

They're jumping right in to serve customers in any way possible - heading right for their first paying customers.

Most importantly, unlike the majority of their peers, by the time they start building a product, they already have a humming business.

How are they doing it?

Focus on Serving Customers Instead of Building a Product

Successful founders all know one thing: it's more important to serve a customer than it is to build a product.

This is the mindset you must get into when you start out. Most entrepreneurs are narrowly set on building a product that they lose sight of the real goal - to solve a problem for a customer.

Or, as Ben Yoskovitz eloquently put it,

"Customers don’t care how you get things done – just that you get it done and solve their pain."

Replace Technology with People

Think about the hardest part of the business you want to build. The part that would require the most complex development - the true innovation that no one else does.

Can a real person perform these tasks manually?

For many startups, this was the secret to massive success:

David Quail is a super talented software engineer, with one exit already under his belt. He wanted to solve his ultimate annoyance: scheduling meetings over email.

David's original idea was to build an artificial intelligence tool that could read an email chain and automatically schedule the event. But this would take months if not years.

His shortcut to launching a business ASAP? He simply set up an email address for his customers to "CC" that forwarded to him, and did the work manually at first to prove that customers were willing to pay.

Over time he automated more of the service - but not before he already knew there was clear demand and was making revenues.

Another example - a marketplace:

Tastemaker is a marketplace connecting interior designers with homeowners for small design gigs. They started by contacting interior designers and building a physical list of those interested in extra work.

They then asked their network who needed help with interior design - and made the connection, processing payment themselves.

The Tastemaker founders used pen and paper to solve their customer's needs and prove the market. They then built their online platform in parallel (which eventually became their core business).

You've probably heard many famous stories like ZenLike and Tastemaker. They range all the way from companies like Groupon or Yipit (raised $7.3M), to Aardvark (acquired by Google) and Diapers.com (acquired by Amazon).

What did they have in common starting out? At the core of many businesses, instead of fancy algorithms, you would have found the founders themselves, like the "man behind the curtain" in the Wizard of Oz, working hard, acting as the secret sauce.

Use These Off the Shelf Solutions

While your core tech might in fact be a service starting out, you can wrap it with an online presence, digital interactions, and the administration of a true technology business.

In short, you can act, look, and smell like a fully automated online company that employs a posse of software developers and an in-house graphic designer.

* Use e-commerce services to accept payments and even subscriptions using "hosted payment pages" - requiring zero code.

* Let your customers interact with you through sophisticated online forms you can publish (and brand) using drag-and-drop editors.

* Build a support knowledge base and community forum with Zendesk, Uservoice, or GetSatisfaction

* Use copy-paste widgets from around the web like contact forms, Skype buttons, live chat, etc.

* Use simple-yet-sophisticated website creators to publish your central website and glue together all the tools into one presence. Strikingly and Unbounce are great for beautifully designed landing pages.

I could go on listing these forever (well, I did here). As you can see, the web is full of tools that let you conjure entire features with the click of a mouse.

The key is to always search for what you want before reinventing the wheel. Chances are someone has already thought of how to make your life easier.

The Hidden Treasures of Wordpress

To most of us, the Wordpress brand connotes a free blog, or a simple way to create a content website for non-technical folks.

But the true magic of Wordpress is the ability to extend its functionality to create many kinds of web platforms - while keeping your hands (mostly) free of code.

Wordpress itself is free, and you can purchase inexpensive plugins that automatically transform your website into a membership site, ecommerce portal, social network, and even daily deals site.

Instead of spending thousands on a designer, you can buy a high-end theme for around $40 and customize it to your brand. If you have a bit more saved up, you can hire a local Wordpress expert for a few hours of their time for small custom tweaks and a personal tutorial. And, if you don't want hosting headaches, you can use WPEngine (hi, Jason!).

Wordpress is one of the most incredible tools on the web for non-technical entrepreneurs. There's a bit of a learning curve, depending on how you want to use it, but definitely a faster option than finding a developer or learning to code.

It puts fate into your own hands.

Put It All Together

Go back to that core customer need, and think of how to satisfy it by any means. Now how can you make that solution accessible? What would the process be for finding you and reaching out? How can you charge and provide support?

Chances are good that you can pull it all off yourself. If not, consider starting a bit smaller than you originally imagined, if only to start generating revenues today and fund your development.

Once you have your first few customers, you'll have a very good picture of where your business is going, and what technology you absolutely need to build - and very clear motivation.

Does working this way pay off?

Tech companies started this way have sold for between $50-$540 million, or have gone public. They are growing at double digit rates. And they launched in a matter of weeks or months - not years.

If this approach makes you uncomfortable - that's great. It's a sign that you're learning to think differently. However, entrepreneurs presented with this approach often have similar gut feelings:

What Will Investors Think?

They will think you are clever, resourceful, flexible, persistent - and know how to focus on the right things.
To quote one of our investors, Len Brody, on his portfolio: "I call them the workaround culture... [they] just work around anything - and you have to."

If for any reason they are put off by your creativity and resourcefulness, then you're not talking to the right investors.

What About Scaling?

This is a very understandable fear. It's a scary situation to think, "Great, we got our customers, and now we're going to disappoint them."

Don't let that thought paralyze you. Growth is rarely if ever a black and white, rocket-ship-spike. It's a steady process that leaves you plenty of time to transition between solutions.

In other words, there's a spectrum between do-it-yourself and full-robot-revolution. You might hire a few people in the meantime (with the revenue that their hire would naturally generate) while also developing a scalable technology.

As most entrepreneurs will tell you the way you get your first 50 customers certainly won't be the way you get your first 5,000.

For those of you feeling held back by your lack of technical skills - or deep in development muck  - ask yourself, what can you do *today* to get your first customer.

Give it a shot. In contrast to paying a developer, you don't have a lot to lose. Do whatever you need to do to get your business going.

Remember: you're not here to build a product - you're here to solve a problem. And you certainly have the skills to do that.
***
Want more specifics, examples, and tools? Check out my newest Skillshare course, How to Launch Your Startup Without Any Code (use code ONSTRTPS for %15 off)

This is a guest post by Tal Raviv.  He is the co-founder of Ecquire.

[Change this text]Posted by Dharmesh Shah 
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No asset bubble, said Malaysian Central Bank governor

Malaysia has addressed many issues, risks 

Zeti:‘There is confidence in the financialsystem.’- EPA  

KUALA LUMPUR: There is no reason to believe that Malaysia has seen the formation of an asset bubble that is about to burst, as the country has addressed many of the issues and risks related to it, says Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

She said three series of macro prudential measures had been introduced this year to avoid the very risk of the formation of such a bubble asset.

She was responding to a question on whether Malaysia was experiencing an asset bubble that would burst if China’s economy tumbled and as global interest rates rose, as reported recently by the foreign media.

“Conditions between now and in 1997/1998 are different. We are now on a growth path,” she told a press conference in conjunction with the South East Asian Central Banks (Seacen) 30th Anniversary Conference on Greater Financial Integration and Financial Stability and launch of the Seacen Financial Stability Journal.

Zeti said domestic demand was driving Malaysia’s economic growth and the country was not at the epicentre of the recent global financial crisis.

“Our financial intermediaries remain resilient and the supply of credit was never disrupted,” she added.

She said financial intermediation was continuing and financial markets continued to function.

“There is confidence in the financial system. This is the result of the focus over the last decade on financial reforms that have strengthened the foundation of our financial system.

“We believe that credit growth has moderated to a sustainable pace that supports the growth of the economy. In this regard, we continue to monitor conditions,” Zeti added.

Meanwhile, in her opening address at the conference, Zeti said the modernisation of the Asian financial system had been accompanied by a significant strengthening of the regulatory and supervisory frameworks.

She said it had also been accompanied by improved financial safety nets, a more effective surveillance of financial stability risks and stronger legal underpinnings.

“These reforms supported the transition towards more market-oriented financial systems that are anchored in stronger institutions, risk management capacity and governance,” she added.

“Our financial institutions are supported by stronger financial buffers to withstand adverse developments and shocks.

“Significant strides also continue to be made in strengthening consumer protection frameworks, promoting financial inclusion, and enhancing market discipline,” she said.

She also said these developments continued to support the region through the recent episodes of turbulence in the global financial markets.

“The region has also made important strides in enhancing monetary and financial cooperation arrangements to address regional financial stability issues and global policy spillovers.

“Much has been accomplished in the areas of surveillance arrangements, financial safety nets and crisis prevention, management and resolution,” she added.

On the Asian financial integration model for the ten Asean economies, Zeti said it was focused on strengthening pre-conditions through collective capacity building to promote more open market access.

“It also focuses on progressively reducing barriers to facilitate cross-border trade, developing the market infrastructure and an enabling environment to promote the efficient and effective intermediation of cross-border financial flows.

“It also focuses on establishing appropriate safeguards for the stability of the financial system,” she added.

Meanwhile, Bank Negara and the Bank of Korea jointly announced the establishment of a bilateral local currency swap arrangement. It is designed to promote the use of local currencies for bilateral trade and strengthen financial cooperation between Malaysia and South Korea, Bank Negara said in a statement.

This arrangement allows for the exchange of local currencies between the two central banks of up to five trillion Korean won or RM15bil.

The effective period of the arrangement is three years, and could be extended by mutual agreement between the central banks. - Bernama

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5.  Malaysia's property market still growing strongly
6. Malaysia's Budget to increase real property gains tax (RPGT) will dampen market short term but rise up prices eventually

Monday, 21 October 2013

Erosion of confidence: US avoided a debt default, debt ceiling shifted to next year

It happened again last week – at the last minute the United States avoided debt default. But the world is losing patience with this latest episode of dysfunctional leadership.




THE world waited with bated breath as the deadline neared. And breathed a sigh of relief when at the last minute, the United States avoided crossing its “debt ceiling” and a default on its debts.

The debt ceiling was raised, and the government shutdown also ended last Thursday after weeks of a high-profile standoff between US President Barrack Obama and the Republicans in Congress.

But this relief was mixed with incredulity and frustration.

First, the respite is only temporary; the can is just kicked down the road.

The deadlines for government shutdown and debt ceiling are shifted some weeks away to January and February next year.

Second, this fiasco has happened several times already.

Each time the Congress gave the President a reprieve of just a few more months, before the new deadline loomed again.

The Republicans are adamant to cut the government’s spending and its budget deficit and won’t allow the government to function unless they get what they want.

Previously, Obama compromised and gave in significantly.This time, he stood firm and refused to negotiate.

The Republicans went too far, choosing to defund and damage his landmark medical insurance reform as a condition for lifting the debt ceiling.

Obama decided “enough is enough” and relied on public opinion to win his gamble. The Republican Party blinked, as the public heaped the blame on them.

The party leaders in Congress had to eat humble pie and agree to stop the shutdown and lift the debt ceiling without defunding or changing the “Obamacare” health reform.

But thirdly, while the President finally showed the Republicans who was boss, the damage had already been done to the United States’ image as a superpower and the champion of American-style democracy.

The US system of governance has become dysfunctional, with one side of the political divide willing and able to paralyse the government functions led by the other side, using the weapon of withholding approval of the government’s budget and capacity to borrow.

Just days before the deadline, the world’s finance ministers meeting at the annual IMF-World Bank meeting in Washington highlighted the extreme dangers of a US debt default.

Around the world, leaders and analysts mourned the end of the past certainties surrounding the United States and its dollar as the world’s financial leader.

A widely-quoted article in China’s Xinhua news agency was titled: “Washington’s political chaos proves it’s time for a de-Americanised world.”

The commentator, Liu Chang, said the latest crisis reveals that the United States is unfit to govern itself, let alone lord it over the rest of us.

“It is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanised world.”

After castigating the United States for meddling in the political affairs of countries in its efforts in building a world empire, the writer attacks a self-serving Washington for shifting financial risks overseas, while the debt ceiling crisis “has again left many nations’ tremendous dollar assets in jeopardy and the international community highly agonised”.

“Such alarming days when the destinies of others are in the hands of a hypocritical nation have to be terminated, and a new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing.

“Part of that reform is the introduction of a new international reserve currency that is to be created to replace the dominant US dollar, so that the international community could permanently stay away from the spillover of the intensifying domestic political turmoil in the United States.”

As the Xinhua opinion piece indicated, many countries are concerned about the US dollar being the world’s dominant currency. It is by far the most important reserve currency.

Countries holding US dollar treasury bills have been worried about the once unthinkable, that the US would be unable to honour its debt service obligations, thus putting their hard-earned assets in jeopardy.

On the other hand, countries that took loans denominated in US dollars could face punishing terms of repayment if the interest rate on the US dollar shoots up upon fears of a US debt default.

Companies, traders and governments that use the US dollar as the medium of exchange would also suffer from chaos in the markets for money, commodities and trade, if there is a massive loss of confidence in the US and its dollar.

Thus, continuing uncertainty arising from feuds in Washington will accelerate the erosion of confidence in the US as world economic leader.

The Financial Times columinist Martin Wolf commented that the US debt ceiling is the legislative equivalent of a nuclear bomb, and that the law needs to be repealed since there cannot be orderly government under so destructive a threat.

But another editorial comment in The Independent states that while there is a straightforward case to ditch the debt ceiling law, the same extremists who use it as a weapon of mass destruction will be loath to part with it.

In the past few days, some Democrat and Republican leaders in charge of budget policy in Congress have started meeting, giving hope they plan to avoid a repeat of the fiasco when the budget and debt ceiling deadlines re-appear in a few months.

But given the polarisation and ideological divides in Washington, chances are that the world will be treated to another round of the battle and the chaos. If that happens, there will be more calls for a new world order.

Contributed by Global Trends by Martin Khor
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Kinect Technologies for PCs, can track you through walls

Intel’s gesture control tech will be built into PCs from 2014

Ever since Microsoft’s Kinect came out, it has been wondering when the technology would get built into PCs. Yes, there is Kinect for Windows, but it’s a peripheral — about having advanced motion detection capabilities in the webcam, as a bridge to exciting future user interfaces.

Well, today, such technology is on its way, but not from Microsoft. No, it’s Intel that the PC manufacturers are talking to, and it’s not Kinect that’s the base: it’s Intel’s perceptual computing technology.

According to Paul Tapp, senior product manager in Intel’s perceptual computing division, manufacturers have “committed to doing it” in 2014 – “it” being the integration of an Intel-designed motion-detection system into their machines. And in the meanwhile, peripherals maker Creative put its $210 Senz3D, the first retail device to use the technology.

Intel Portal 2 gesture control demoCreative’s Senz3D camera is up for pre-order. It’s the first peripheral to use Intel’s perceptual computing tech, which will be built into computers from next year. >>

Contributed by By David Meyer Gigaom.com


MIT’s ‘Kinect of the future’ can track you through walls


Researchers from MIT have unveiled a new form of motion tracking that uses a three-point system to follow a person’s position, even through a totally opaque wall. Though the word “Kinect” has been thrown around quite liberally for the sake of accessibility, this is strictly a positional tracker — that means that it won’t be interpreting sign language or reading lips any time soon. Rather than being a control mechanism, this device is purely for keeping tabs on users as they move both within and between rooms. At present the tracker is set up directionally, so it can only see through the single wall at which it is pointed, but the obvious end goal is an omnidirectional tracker that could follow a user through the whole house, upstairs and down.

The system works using three radio antennas spaced about a meter apart to bounce signals off a person’s body. Even through the researchers’ office wall, it can follow people with an accuracy of up to 10 centimeters (four inches), better than WiFi localization can currently provide. Though the device is exploded and sitting as component parts at present, one grad student working on the project said they expect to be able to condense it down to a final unit no larger than Microsoft’s Kinect sensor.

Beyond the loss of Kinect-like image and silhouette tracking, the MIT system can also only track a single person at a time. A second moving object within the system’s field of view will cause confusion and make the system useless — though that problem is, of course, to be addressed soon. It also has trouble with stationary objects, but they already have a first pass on an algorithm to get around this by recognizing the motion of a person breathing.

Applications for the technology, assuming its kinks and limitations are addressed, are numerous. There are the obvious gaming applications, perhaps blurring the line between real and virtual locations as players stalk through real hallways full of video-game enemies. All Oculus Rift fantasies aside though, there are plenty of more substantive reasons to be excited about the ability to keep track of people without their need to carry a transmitter. Rather than installing motion trackers in every corner of the home, a single tracker near the center might be able to intelligently turn the lights on and off as you move from room to room.

Architects and advertising researchers would love to know how people move through a particular space, where they spend their time, and what places they tend to avoid. The health care industry could keep better track of people in need of supervision, receiving an alert if, say, a person with dementia begins to wander away.

Though it's a sprawling array today, the researchers say they the device could end up smaller than a Kinect. Though it’s a sprawling array today, the researchers say that the device could end up smaller than a Kinect.>>

Of course, there are also the more troubling possible uses. WiFi localization currently requires users to hold a tracking device, while more versatile options like holographic localization are slow and low fidelity. MIT is now bringing a high degree of accuracy and usability together with the versatility that comes with being able to track people who have never consented to be tracked. If the signal could be made strong enough, it could render prison break-outs virtually impossible, or let law enforcement quickly check the number and position of people in a hostage situation.

Human and civil rights activists might have something to say about such applications, however. That’s really the downfall of a catch-all people-tracker for use outside of private homes: I can’t imagine a world in which its use would remain legal for long. People are leery enough about ad agencies tracking their online activities — how might people react to the idea of a company monetizing their walking path through the local mall? The Kinect has already got certain people up in arms over just the possibility of always-on functionality, and that would only have mattered when the user was standing directly in front of their television.

The team has a patent pending for the technology, but the concept seems like it would be easy enough to adapt with slight changes. It’s still in its infancy, but finding a person through a wall by picking up on their breathing is about as strong a proof of concept as they could ever have hoped for.

Contributed by Graham Templeton Extremetech.com

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Saturday, 19 October 2013

Malaysia's Budget to increase real property gains tax (RPGT) will dampen market short term but rise up prices eventually

GEORGE TOWN: The Federal Government should leave real property gains tax (RPGT) alone in the 2014 Budget.

New Bob Group director Dr Lee Ville said that if the RPGT is increased, then it will dampen the property market, which has already started to cool.

Lee is also president of ERA Malaysia, which is the world’s leading real estate brand.

It is expected that the Federal Government will raise the RPGT rate to 30% from 15% for properties sold within two years, and 15% from 10% for properties sold within three to four years.

For properties sold in the fifth and sixth year, the RPGT is expected to remain unchanged at the current 10% and zero RPGT respectively.

“The anticipated RPGT will not deter foreigners from buying, as they are allowed to dispose their properties only after the third year,” he said.

Mont’Kiara and Sri Hartamas apartments Kuala Lumpur

Lee said the anticipated RPGT would work in the initial stages, curbing speculation in the short term.

“If implemented, developers will respond by reducing their delivery of residential housing projects.

“This will eventually lead to a shortage, triggering demand and causing property prices to rise up again in the long term,” he said.

Lee said the Federal Government should look into controlling price, other than cement, of essential building materials, as the rising price of raw materials was a reason for soaring property prices.

Meanwhile, Raine & Horne Malaysia director Michael Geh (pic) said the RPGT would hurt current speculators who had already bought properties, and not the future ones who had yet to buy properties.

“If the existing speculators are hurt, the banks will also be dragged down.

“The Federal Government should look at curbing speculation through other means such as providing middle-income homes with an effective delivery mechanism that ensures only the eligible income category benefits,” Geh said.

Contributed by  BY DAVID TAN The Star/Asia News Network

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Time for crucial fiscal reforms: Malaysia Budget 2014 - Rightways