A Malasyian Journal:

Malaysia and Asia/Pacific Comments from Professor Farber

(14 June 98)


After getting a bachelor's degree in psychology and a masters in (human) communication, I thought it might be worth filling in a rather major professional gap, by obtaining some formal training in computer science. It had, after all, already been my profession for some years. I followed a formerly-west coast professor to the University of Delaware and continued to pursue electronic mail R&D for 4 years there. Professor David Farber is well known in the computer and networking community. He participated in creating an early and unusal programming language that was oriented on the processing of strings of text, and later led a team that pretty much invented the world of local area networking. Although "ethernet" technology now dominates the market, the "token ring" technology created by Dave's team at University California Irvine was earlier and quite interesting. These days, Dave gets rather a lot of media attention partly due to his involvement with the Electronic Freedom Foundation. However he also has his own personal mailing list -- yes, they DO seem to crop up all over the place, don't they -- with some thousands of "interesting people" on it, including many senior industry and political figures.

I had not intended to forward items from other people to my AMJ list, but felt that his comments on a recent trip were entirely too relevant to skip over. The reason I have not edited his note down to only the portons dealing with Malaysia is that I feel that the larger Asia/Pacific context is also useful to hear about.

Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 05:12:51 -0500

From: Dave Farber <farber@cis.upenn.edu

Subject: IP: Malaysia/Singapore/Tokyo Diary

I had promised that I would report on our trip which starts in Malaysia and ends in Tokyo. Usually I send out multiple messages, but this trip has been so full of meetings, social dinners and lunches and just plain good times that I was remiss. So here it is all at once.

First the Akihabara (which I visited at the end of my trip). Lots more digital camera but as far as I can tell right now the Nikon 900 is the best of the lot. BTW it is 81000 Yen in Tokyo which is cheaper than the US. I bought mine before I left the USA and liked it a lot. The excellent lens with optical zoom is a winner. Be sure to ONLY buy Nikon Compact Flash at this time. Others may cause problems. ( in Japan the Nikon Flash card is cheap). As to PCs the best small one seems still to be the Sony Vario. 505. I met the senior management at Sony and was told that they would be at PC Expo with the new models which would simultaneously be sold in Japan. Orders will be taken at PC Expo. I

was told the details of them but promised I would stay quiet -- the 505G is as announced in an earlier IP. I was given a 505EX by the Senior VP of Sony and it is very good. 233 mh , 2.1 gig drive and minor improvements in the touch pad etc. July 25 th is the date. BTW it is highly likely that the Japanese keyboards on the Vario will be replaceable in Japan at least since many many technical Japanese prefer to have a US Keyboard.

Sharp has a unit that is bigger than the Vario in size but roughly the same thickness. The Vario seems to be a winner on features.

Actually the Akihabara was a slight disappointment this time in that there was not too much new but still a lot of fun.

Now back to the trip

We arrived in Malaysia after a eventful flight from the US. Out of SFO we were one hour late due to crew shortage and made up that time en route to Narita where we were 2 hours late departing for Singapore. We got into SIN at 230 am and flopped in the transient hotel at the airport -- nice and comfortable and by the hour

We got to Malaysia the same morning, tired but ready. Izumi Aizu met us and our adventure started. We stayed at the Hyatt near the airport (the old one -- 30 days from now the new one opens. ). As in most of Malaysia one can and does overeat. Buffets are the rule and the food is hot and great. The mix of Malay, Indian and Chinese makes for a great eating experience (and more belt space for gadgets).

I went to visit the Multimedia Corridor people. The effort is going very slow wrt the physical infrastructure due to the poor economic situation. BTW if you are looking for a good inexpensive vacation spot consider this place. The economic picture is striking in that all over the place there is construction that had halted and is starting to decay. I suspect that the banks have taken a bath. The newspapers are party controlled and the press is never downbeat really. Back to the corridor. The plan is still intact even though the participation of some Japanese companies are in doubt. Soon the University of Telecommunications will open its campus in the corridor. I kept asking a basic question to all I met. Besides the political reasons ( the participation in the MSC as a condition of doing business) I asked why a company from outside would want to come to the MSC? It was hard to get answers that satisfied me. The problems in Malaysia are many fold. It is hot always, the air is smoggy, the Universities do not have the graduate education needed to maintain a research infrastructure and in spite of contracts with MIT and UPenn, it will be had to get both qualified faculty to teach in Malaysia, certainly not the stars that make those institutions worth going to and students who will want to go on to PhD level. The country also lacks any developed startup funding mechanism outside the government. As in much a SE Asia and Japan , the Venture Capital organizations are sadly lacking so bright young people want to go to the US. BTW I don't believe that the Government can be an effective Venturer. All to often decisions are political or ethnic rather than the merits of the case. I suggested several potential cures and we will see if they can be made to work (see latter). Often any changes are met by the comment that this is not our Culture. That may be true but somehow I think it is more of a "go away" statement.

Just to be sure I don't give you the wrong impression, I liked Malaysia and its people. They were intelligent and bright and ambitious. I liked them enough to want to help them see if they could made a success out of the MSC. Singapore was also in economic problems although not as visibly in trouble. Little abandoned construction etc. The Network Asia Conference was very well attended and fun to go to along with Communications Asia and Broadcast Asia. Endless cell phones, digital video and several very interesting wireless systems for local and 30 km use mainly from Israel. I will try to summarize those when I get the stuff I mailed back.

Singapore 1, their year 2000 communications system, is growing slowly although in their PR much faster that in reality. ADSL is slower than cable and both suffer from the desire of people to surf overseas and thus the apparent behavior of the cable and ADSL is limited by the speed of the foreign comm lines and the proxies Singaporians must go through. They are still pushing Video to the home etc.

Both Singapore and Malaysia kept talking to me about the "unfair" fact that they must pay for lines to the USA and we don't pick up the tab for traffic we originate. I kept having to step aside and plead innocence. I went to the Singapore equivalent of the Akihabare (much much much smaller) and saw nothing of interest). As usual the food was excellent , the people very nice and many very good technical people were not planning necessarily to stay in Singapore.

Time to address the how to you train/educate good people and increase the supply of post BS manpower in that part of the world. One is tempted to point out that courses could be taught by remote teachers who would extend their courses to include SE Asia (most people in college speak decent English). But the US and the EU are far away in time zones. The obvious (I hate to use that word since it is far from easy) cure is for the Japanese to bite the bullet and behave like leaders in the region , at last with respect to higher education). If the Japanese would use English in their technical courses at Keio and EVEN Univ of Tokyo and if those lectures were remoted to SE Asia a generation of graduate students could be trained as well as curing a major problem in Japan which is that many, maybe most is a better word, people in the research community can not easily read or speak English which hampers them in dealing with the rest of the research world outside Japan. Please note all I propose is that technical courses be held in English and maybe we could start with a few key people in the networking area who speak excellent English and are great teachers -- like Muri and Tokura of Keio.

I also think that the issue of Venture funding for startups needs immediate attention so that people with good ideas don't travel to the US to start companies. The "engine of innovation" that cooks in Silicon Valley/Alley and Beltway is badly needed in Asia to stimulate their economies. Maybe the Governments can be Venture partners with foreign companies with startup expertise done in such a manner as to retain for a decent period of years the profits from these startups within SE Asia to be used to bootstrap. Again more thinking is needed and I will sometime soon amplify my ideas. Japans economy was also not great. Much much less visibly in trouble. People seemed to shop and eat out and things were Crowded. I am not an economist but it felt slow and slowing.

Asia is a bargain with the strong dollar. Even Tokyo was affordable and KL was a bargain as was Singapore (a bit less so).Good time to go and buy things and eat up a storm. The last evening in Tokyo GG and I went to a Yakatori place near the Ginza and we eat and eat and drank a little and the price as about 8000 Yen. That used to be $80 now it is < $60 for a great dinner. Just stay away from Hotel food prices which are still high.