Is Uni-tasking underrated?

Google reported that  91 per cent of its Malaysian respondents are “multi-screening” with their smartphones, meaning that while watching TV, or working a laptop, Malaysians were at the VERY SAME TIME, using their phones.

The Malay Mail reported this as Malaysians being champion multi-taskers, but I look at it as a negative, and instead view it as indication of just how easily distracted we are.

It used to be that multi-tasking was a prized asset in an employee, but as a regular cari-makan working adult, I have to say that trying NOT to multi-task is getting harder by the day. A brief boring moment in a call, a e-mail alert while you’re writing a document, a phone call in the middle of a presentation–trying to focus on ONE thing at ONE time is HARD.

And most of my best work comes from uni-tasking. In fact, all the science leads to conclude that focusing on a single task leads to better performance in a shorter amount of time. Multi-tasking is a myth that only about 2% of the population can do at any one time, the greatest among us are those that focus on a single core activity at once.

And uni-tasking isn’t just for better performance, it leads to better satisfaction.

The only real time I uni-task is when I’m gaming, when I’m playing DOTA I naturally turn off all distractions and focusing purely on winning a game, every distraction I get while gaming is both irritating and quickly addressed. I don’t leave half-way through a game to view my facebook feed or read e-mail, I’m 100% committed to killing the enemy.

And do I enjoy gaming–you bet.

Is that because of focus–yes!

Or so says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounce cheeks-sent-me-high), who authored one of the most influential books on the subject–flow.

Flow is that feeling you get when you’re deeply immersed into an activity, we all have at least one of them, or at the very least Sex. That one thing you do, when all other distractions are immediately switched off, and you’re focused on it. In fact, you’re so focused on the matter,that you lose sense of time, and even your sense of being–it’s the feeling of flow.

Some get it from gaming, others from some other activity, but think of the last time you were so thoroughly engaged in something you lost sense of time. That’s the feeling of flow–and nobody is multi-tasking while they’re flowing.

In a sense, smartphones and all the technological gadgetry that surrounds us make it impossible for us to achieve flow, and that’s a negative.

Maybe it’s time we put down our smartphones, and start looking for employees who can uni-task, because let’s face it, life is better that way.

Internet connections speeds in Malaysia

Broadband connection speedsNot to beat a dead horse now, (you can read my previous articles here and here)but I’ll say it one last time, internet speeds aren’t exactly what we should be debating over these days. We should focus on internet penetration rates, and broadband penetration, and define these correctly.

The MCMC defines broadband as anything over dial-up. Which is stupid, because a 128kbps ISDN would be considered broadband, but certainly it wouldn’t feel like broadband to any user. It would crawl.

But at the same time, you can’t set the number too high to something like 100Mbps because what would you be able to consume at that speed which you wouldn’t at 5Mbps, in other words why would you need 100Mbps instead of 5Mbps, and what you actually mean by the term broadband?

So the question becomes, how fast is fast enough? What bandwidth is sufficient for the average Malaysian to enjoy the internet at the same level as anybody else. A lot of people buy a car without caring about the cars top speed, because very few people actually push the car to it’s top speed. Why isn’t it the same for internet bandwidth? Continue reading

Hacking Government, Malaysian Style

hacking-governmentThe simplest definition of a hacker, is someone who breaks systems. We tend to equate systems to computers, but that’s a limited definition of the term. A system can also refer to a legal system or a set of processes that have nothing to do with technology.

For example, lawyers often hack around the law, looking for loopholes to exploit to give them an advantage in their case. A good lawyer is expected to work within the legal system of a country, but still try to bend it a wee bit for their clients. He’s not breaking the law, merely hacking it for his own good.

In the technology world, we sometimes define hackers as those to attempt to gain un-authorized access to computers, in other words an attacker that’s able to circumvent security measures of a server to gain access. This bypassing of security measures it what makes a hacker–but how does it reflect in a legal context? Continue reading

How corporations lie to the technologically challenged

wpid-wp-1442992521638 (1)Two weeks ago, published a ‘challenge’ to their readers, one that would supposedly pay a cool RM100,000 to the winner.All you had to do was decrypt an AES-256 encoded blob of code (more accurately referred to as ciphertext).

As expected, no one won.

Because breaking that ‘military-grade’ encryption is beyond the capability of most normal human beings, and certainly not worth a paltry RM100,000 that was being offered. It’s the equivalent of offering 50 cents for someone to build a rocket capable of going to the moon. In fact, Rm100,000 is exactly the cash prize celcom offered for it’s cupcake challenge, because baking cup-cakes and breaking ‘military-grade’ encryption are the same thing.

Once the challenge has expired, Celcom conveniently launched their new zipitchat application, which surprisingly used AES-256 encryption as well, and more importantly they released some statistics of a ‘hackerthon’ they conducted in which 18 Million people viewed the challenge, and 17,000 registered to participate but none succeeded.

OK, so while there was no official announcement from Celcom to tie the original lowyat challenge to their new zipit app, it was quite plain for all to see.

So let’s go into why this upsets me. Continue reading

Using the internet anonymously

Spying ProgramWhile anonymity on the internet is slowly dying, there remain legitimate reasons for wanting to keep your online identity a secret from those meddling kids, governments or snooping criminals. From e-mailing leaked documents to commenting on blogs using pseudonyms or even just casual online chatting, utilizing the internet without leaving digital bread-crumbs behind you is a task that is getting more difficult over time, particularly when the big bad wolf that’s chasing you down is a rich and powerful government agency.

But to secure yourself online, you first need to understand whose attacking you, and what techniques they’re using. Adjusting your defense to suit your attacker is not just common sense, it is the only practical way to achieve a semblance of security and anonymity online without losing your mind and going into tin-foil hat wearing paranoia.

For example, if your adversary is the NSA, there’s nothing much you can do. This is a Federal agency so well resourced, they’re building a data-center in Utah that’s bigger than 5 Ikeas.Add to all this, the fact that it hires the cream of the crop from the Ivy-league maths programs, and you have brains and brawn that are orders of magnitude higher than the average person. If the NSA wants to target you, it’s game over. The only reason you’re not targeted by the NSA is that you didn’t factor high enough on the wanted list to merit their attention and taxpayer dollars.

But how about the Malaysian Government? How sophisticated are they and is it Game-over if the Malaysian government were targeting you?

Fortunately, our Governmen isn’t building a Utah data-center, or a Great Firewall and they’re no where close to the NSA, but they’re still a well-resourced organization that has the technical capability and financial muscle to do some serious harm against an ordinary citizen. And in order to secure yourself against them, you’d need to understand their techniques and tools.

Malaysian Government Surveillance 101

Childrens PrivacyFirstly, the government controls the ISP and Telcos, and hence the Government controls the network. The prevention of terrorism act (POTA) permits a Police Officer to waltz into any ISP or Telco and compel them to grant him your communication details without the need for any kind of judicial warrant, it also allows for the Police to place a digital wiretap on your communications (again without a warrant), but also without ever having to reveal the status of that wiretap to any court of law even if they convict of something. So anytime you’re using a Malaysian internet connection, you have to assume that the connection is compromised.

Thankfully, whenever I go into a starbucks, or use the WiFi at KLIA, I already assume the network is compromised–and there’s many ways to secure yourselves over a hostile network.

Secondly, the government has a record of purchasing surveillance spyware (twice!),  These are specialized software designed to infiltrate your laptop or smartphone, and start sending all your communication data direct from source. Again, one has to assume there is no judicial oversight over the use of these things.

If your end-device is compromised, and the Government has already installed spyware on your phone, laptop, tablet or even smart TV, there’s nothing you can do on the network end to secure things. So it’s wise to start securing the device before you think about the network, and that’s where we’ll begin.

But there’s a last and final attack-vector that a government can employ. Simply breaking into your home, and taking your laptop and smartphone away from you. Which means that you don’t just need to secure your device and network when you’re using it, but also when you’re NOT using it. In computer-geek circles we call this securing your data at rest, which protects your data while it’s just idling somewhere, and it turns out that’s not entirely easy to do either. Continue reading

Change WiFi password on Maxis home fiber router

Got Maxis Fiber to your home, but want to change your WiFi passwords, then here’s how you do it.

Image-1-Maxis-LogonFirst you need to logon to your router. You can do so by opening your Web-Browser and type (where you’d normally type, or just click here.

You should either see a picture like the above, then you’d need to enter the username and password, or if you haven’t setup a router password, then you’d see this: Continue reading

A dumb-pipe and Net Neutrality

The pipe that brings water into your home is a pretty un-sexy thing, just like the electrical cables that deliver electricity. Your internet connection though, has gotten sexier and sexier–from being used to deliver paid content like hyppTV and Astro to other more interesting services, resulting in a triple play (internet, tv and phone) of services, all piped into your home on a fibre optic cable no thicker than a strand of your hair.

But should you internet connection be sexy or should it be a dumb-pipe? The telcos of course want to deliver more services and hence fatten the bottom-line, but the problem I have is that in their zeal to do this, they’ve violated the principles of net neutrality, and I fear that we’re going down a rabbit-hole of ‘favored’ content, that sooner or later we’re not going to be able to reverse this trend.

A quick example is Maxis, it’s the only player out that can stream Astro content over the Fibre cable. That gives Maxis an un-fair advantage over TM.

Continue reading

Block This!!

A notice posted on the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s (MCMC) Facebook page said the decision was made to block websites that “promote, spread information and encourage people to join the Bersih 4 demonstration“, on grounds that this will “threaten national stability”.

I cannot then tell you to join Bersih and call for free and fair elections, and I couldn’t begin to articulate that our Prime Minister has received BILLION ringgit donations from foreign sources, and certainly I must refrain from encouraging you to do your civic duty to attend tomorrows rally.

I also shouldn’t post pictures like the one below:



Why we fear ‘hackers’: Dangers of Technical Illiteracy

anonymousmask380-300x225Are you afraid of Hackers? Do you lie restless at night thinking of what might happen if they got into your bank account, facebook profile, or e-mail. Perhaps you’re also worried about that they might hack into a forum you visit, or that they might get into your personal messages on whatsapp.

It’s true that hackers are able to do all of these things, but the public perception of hackers really isn’t quite justified, and this false perception can lead to terrible outcomes.

Take last weeks post about the hacktivist group Anonymous. In it I expanded on the public fear of anonymous and how that didn’t correspond to the actual damage that the group causes. Sometimes all Anonymous does is a DDOS on a public website, that still takes some skill, but far removed from actually infiltrating a server. Yet, most people wouldn’t be able to differentiate a DDOS attack of a website to a compromise of an actual server, and this inability leads then to disproportionately fear hackers, worse still it leads them to lump all security related incidences into a single bucket called “hacked by hackers”.

But Why?

Why are people so afraid of hackers? And why is there a huge discrepancy between what some of these hackers are actually doing and the fear that the average citizen has of them.

I have one theory–ignorance, or more specially tech-illiteracy. Continue reading

Our Communication Minister must be mistaken

Our newly appointed Communication Minister has come out all guns blazing in directing the The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to ask social media giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter soon to block “false information and rumours” on their platforms.

That in itself is quite frustrating, but what really got me scratching my head was his claim that “that social media providers acted on 78 per cent of MCMC’s request for removal of content last year, with Facebook taking action on around 81 per cent of its request.”

Reuters reported that:

A Google spokesman in Kuala Lumpur said the Internet giant was “always in conversation with” the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission but he declined to comment on the request from the government on curbing content.

Facebook and Twitter were not immediately available for comment.

Fortunately, we don’t need to ask Google, Facebook or twitter about these specific request, because this information is already publicly available. All 3 social media platforms publish transparency reports that detail any and all government request made to them, and whether or not those government request were acted upon.

And as it turns out the data that our Minister has doesn’t quite tally up with the information published by the platforms. According to the Facebook transparency reports (found here and here), the Government of Malaysia made 36 content removal request, and 46 user account request. Of these, less than a quarter were acted on by Facebook, unfortunately Facebook doesn’t provide the details about the specific Government agency making the request or which specific request were acted upon. But, as you can see, the numbers are fairly small (a mere 36 content removal request over an entire year), and the success of those request are quite slim as well (less than 25%).

With twitter things get even more interesting.

In 2014, the government made 3 User account request to twitter, of which all 3 were rejected that’s a resounding success rate of 0%. And in the first half of this year, it had made 1 removal request, which was also rejected. Twitter doesn’t quite like the request from our government, and the government doesn’t make that many either.

I could go on with Google, but you get the picture.

The government is not having ANY success with the removal request, so why bother trying.

A more pertinent question is why is the Minister making these numbers up? Either he’s been given false information, or he’s just making shit up at this point. There is a possibility that maybe he’s telling the truth, through some math-magic, maybe the MCMC makes a smaller fraction of the request to Facebook, and maybe those have a success rate of 80%, but that’s unlikely, and it would be a insignificant number anyway.

My theory is that when you have Ministers who are appointed based on their loyalty to a certain someone, as opposed to technical knowledge of the area they’re supposed to be administering, you will continue to get this sort of this bullshit.

When technical merit, takes a backseat to political connections and allegiances–you’re bound to end up with people who don’t know anything. Something we all should be very very worried about.

Full disclosure:Google actually had one request for the 2nd half of last year, and complied with that request, resulting in a 100% compliance. However  over the entire reporting history, Google complied with 17 out of 31 request, nowhere near the numbers the good Minister has.