Security theater on KTM trains

The last time I took a public train in Malaysia was 10 years ago.

That’s a long time to be spoilt by the luxury of having a car to drive around. So it was a pleasant surprise to see this viral story, about a man on a KTM kommuter train who saved a women from a group of youths who “misbehaved and demanded cash and their valuables”.

But then I remembered that KTM had launched ‘women-only’ coaches on their train, and this event had me pondering the security and social implications of such coaches, and concluded that women-only coaches are a terrible idea!!

Women shouldn’t fear men

Firstly women shouldn’t be afraid of men, they should be afraid of perverts, rapist and criminals. But not all men are perverts, rapist and criminals, and implementing women-only coaches discriminates against all men like as though their criminals.

Of course the argument is that women feel ‘safer’ on these coaches, and indeed they do. But feeling safer is not the same as being safer, and it’s a fallacy to implement policy based on peoples feelings.

There may be a strong perception of an oncoming zombie apocalypse, but we shouldn’t be spending money trying to prevent that–policy decisions must be rooted in facts and effectiveness, not feelings.

The women-only coach conflates men with rapist, the same way Donald Trump conflates terrorism to Islam.We wouldn’t tolerate a white western tourist demanding to be on airplanes that didn’t have arab muslims in it, yet we somehow women on trains that didn’t have men on them perfectly acceptable.

Obviously discriminating against men isn’t as bad as discriminating against women, as women have less power economically, politically, socially and, to an extent, physically as well. In much the same way as black comedians can make fun of white folks, but not the other way–it’s a phenomena called punching-up, it’s not as bad if you’re discriminating against the more powerful.

But the social impact of such a move is way beyond my knowledge, so let’s focus on the security effectiveness of the women-only coach, and whether it’s worth the price.

First off, what is the price? Social implications aside, as an engineer it’s quite plain to see that having a public transport system that discriminates is pretty inefficient. If people were allowed to get on any coach at any time, they’d naturally filter in an efficient manner. Having specific coaches for specific genders will logically lead to a less efficient utilization of the trains–and in the realm of public transport, efficiency is of prime importance.

Are women in danger on public trains?

So if we’re losing efficiency, are we at least gaining some security for the women?

Here’s where things get a bit complicated….

Not many studies have been conducted on these women-only coaches, but I manage to snag this study from UUM:

In terms of the safety in Women-Only Coach in KTM Komuter, it was found that approximately (i) one in 30 respondents (3%) had experienced snatch theft, (ii) one in 30 respondents (3%) had experienced others incidents such as fighting, falling, (iii) one in 10 respondents (10%) had experienced sexual harassment, and (iv) almost the majority respondents (84%) from the total female passengers had no experience of encoutering any of the mentioned incidents while travelling on KTM Komuter.

A study in 2002 conducted  found that 35% of respondents in Malaysia had experienced one or more forms of sexual harassment, and honestly these numbers are ridiculously higher than what I anticipated.

I expected it wasn’t going to be 0%, but I figured that a well-mannered society like Malaysia would have better record of somewhere between 0.2-0.5%, I was convinced we wouldn’t have broken the 1% barrier.

The fact, that even the lowest estimate is 10% is mind-boggling to me, and frankly points to how far removed I really am from society at large.

So we know we have a problem of sexual harassment on trains–and we know that women suffer nearly all of that. What can we do?

Well the unimaginative would simply have women-only coaches, which may improve the feeling of safety, but not safety itself. Consider if the group of youth from the viral facebook article decide to hop on the women-only coach at some dodgy station in Klang–why board a mixed coach, when you could hop only women-only coach and have a field day demanding money from women in a coach where no men could save them.

And it works the other way around as well–imagine a women who can’t board the women’s coach because it’s full, and now she’s a coach that’s predominantly male, and the perverts on the coach start thinking “why are they here if not to be felt up”, and now we’ve just double the discrimination impact on women who choose to use the normal coaches.

Essentially, the logical conclusion of a women-only coach policy is a that you will create a men-only as well–and that’s taking a couple hundred steps back as a society.

Hawks and Doves

Sometimes in security we use the analogy of Hawks and Doves.

Hawks are competitive assholes you fight for every inch of turf you give them. A couple hundred hawks on a sinking ship, causes them all to fight each other till the last hawk is left limping onto the lifeboat whilst bleeding to death.

Doves are co-operative nice guys, that are just plain good. A couple hundred doves on a sinking ship will line up 2-by-2 and calmly fill out the lifeboats till all of them are safely on board.

But put a hawk among the doves, and he’ll have an unfair advantage. Being the first on the lifeboat, and launching it away before the doves get on board.

Put a dove among the hawks, and they’ll be first to be killed.

If you have a Dove-only coach on a train–you can easily see how this becomes a juicy target for the hawks.

In IT, we operate on the same principle. It used to be, that the internal corporate network was considered ‘safe’, anything deployed inside the firewall was generally regarded as low-risk and didn’t need things like pen-testing and vulnerability assessments.

But with the old model, a hawk, that has somehow got a foothold in your network now will have a field-day within your network, because all your defenses are down. This is how Sony Pictures, Target, and hundreds of other companies failed to protect their prized IT assets.

If your internal data is not protected, all it takes is a single compromised machined, or bribed employee to cause havoc within the network. Instead most organizations now segment their networks placing more critical infrastructure behind layers of protection (defense in depth), and taking long hard looks at the security of their internally deployed systems.

Believing that a internal network somehow magically protects the internal systems, is like believing a women-only coach protects women.


In summary, a coach on a Komuter train made exclusively for women causes a huge inefficiency in the system.

In the end, there’s no evidence it makes women safer, or reduce crime–it merely serves to discriminate against men, and causes wide social implications.

Women’s safety isn’t about sequestering them in separate compartments, but the enforcement of laws already on the books, and the social changes necessary to ensure they are treated equally in society and not looked upon like sex-toys on trains.


The ugly truth about Uber

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 14:  In this photo illustration the new smart phone taxi app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location at Atocha Station on October 14, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. 'Uber' application started to operate in Madrid last September despite Taxi drivers claim it is an illegal activity and its drivers currently operate without a license. 'Uber' is an American based company which is quickly expanding to some of the main cities from around the world.  (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)Two weeks ago, I took my first ever Uber ride, and here’s what I think is The Good, the bad and the ugly of Uber.

The Good

The app worked perfectly out of the box, it was intuitive, and the drivers that fetched me from (and to) the Toyota service center were courteous and friendly. What was even more shocking was the price–Uber is freaking cheap.

Bukit Jalil to Bukit Bintang for RM20.20. I remember a time when taxi drivers would charge me Rm10 just to drive from Menara Citibank to KLCC, or RM20 to drive from the Kelana Jaya LRT station to Subang Parade–and that was after I haggled, begged and bargained the prices down.

Uber is so cheap, I felt compelled to tip the driver, but the app doesn’t let me do it.

And when a cheapskate klang boy feels compelled to tip, that’s when you know things are cheap.

Some of you may scream, that Uber isn’t legal and that it’s not regulated. Well, a Taxi Driver refusing to use the meter is also illegal, and if I’m going to choose and illegal Taxi vs. and illegal Uber–I’ll take the Uber, thank you very much.

And in terms of regulations–well Uber (the company) does regulate it’s drivers, probably as much as SPAD regulates taxi drivers. But the Uber system works perfectly in terms of self-regulation, Passengers rate drivers AND Drivers rate passengers too.

What that means is that you can’t be an asshole passenger, because drivers would give you a bad rating, and no one would want to take you anymore. And because rating drivers is so easy, drivers can rely on the hundreds of good reviews they’ve had to offset one nasty review.

Contrast this with how SPAD regulates its drivers–well actually it doesn’t!

I tried calling SPAD hotlines before for speeding express busses and lorries, those numbers just don’t work. In truth, I think Uber is far more regulated than taxis in KL.

And anecdotally, the Uber cars I got into were cleaner and better maintained that most taxis I’ve been in. So if SPAD is regulating them, I’m not sure how effective it is.

Finally, Uber seems to be helping Malaysians make ends meet. One of my drivers was a part-time property agent, who was driving Uber in his ‘off’ time to make some extra cash, and the other was a recently layed-off employee who resorted to Uber as his primary income. Both seemed pretty happy about the arrangement–so I guess I’m happy for them.

Uber is cheap, works perfectly (on all my trips at least) and has friendly and courteous drivers. What’s there not to like?

The Bad

The reason why I like Uber so much, is that Uber is like me.

An Uber driver is more likely to be tech-savvy , middle-income and my age. The same can’t be said of generic cab drivers in KL.

Driving an Uber Car requires you be the following:

  • 21 years old with with driving license
  • Own a car that is less than 8 years old
  • Car insurance policy under the same name as applicants. If you are driving your family’s car do make sure that your name is also under the insurance policy

A poor man driving a 15-year old Proton Iswara is not going to have an Uber opportunity, and neither is a 50 year old uncle who doesn’t know how to use a smartphone.

In some ways, Uber is an sequestered community or tech-savvy 30-something urbanites, and that’s a bad thing. But wait till you see what comes next.


The Ugly

If you’re waiting for the part where I reprimand the Taxi drivers–that’s not the point on the post.

I want to focus on the nice Uber Drivers, because something not-so-nice is going to happen to them.

Uber drivers will be the front-lines of the job wars humans will have to fight with Artificial Intelligence. And most people on the front-lines don’t make it through the war.

The moment Google (or whoever else) releases their an autonomous vehicle, that local authorities will let on the road, is the exact instant Uber drivers lose their source of income.

An Uber driver working 12 hours a day, 30 days a month, can expect an income of around RM8,000–a number Uber themselves guarantee. Some have this number at Rm10,000 or even Rm12,000, but those are not guaranteed numbers.

Even then, it’s revenue and not salary. The driver still needs to maintain their car, pay their fuel bill, and gets no EPF, medical benefits or annual leave while doing so.

Roughly, if you drove a more realistic 8 hours a day (from 6am to 3pm) and only for 22 days a week (leaving weekends for your family), you’ll earn just over RM4,000. Minus cost, and the loss of EPF and Medical Benefits, and you’re looking at an effective salary of about RM2,500 .

An autonomous vehicle needs no rest, and therefore can drive 24/7. It requires no EPF or Medical Benefits either, and can be programmed to drive in a fashion that prolongs the life of the car, consumes less fuel, and charges more. Autonomous vehicle will over time incur less insurance premiums, cost less overall and replace ‘driverable cars’.

Think about it, horses are considered a  luxury these days because of cars, and in the next 3-5 years, the manual gearboxes will cost more than automatic ones (in fact, most cars these days don’t come with a manual option anymore).

And if ladies feel safer in cars driven by ladies, they’re probably going to feel a whole lot safer in cars driven by AI, pay no attention to Hollywood AI depictions, they’re wildly off the mark.

In the same way, rich people buy houses to rent to poorer people–rich people will buy autonomous cars to Uber around. If Johnny Bill Gates can expect a return of RM4,000 for a full-time autonomous vehicle that Uber-ing around, he’d buy a 1000 of them and put 1000 Uber drivers out of business.

We’ve got 10 years (at most) before the guys relying on Uber to supplement their income have to look elsewhere–and the saddest part is that their driving Uber in the mean-time, which isn’t adding any hard-skills to their resume (aside from the ability to make casual conversation–a skill most people lack).

Uber is just delaying a huge problem that’s going to come over the horizon.

And sure, taxi drivers and lorry drivers are in the same bucket as well.

The problem with AI

The only real-problem with AI in Malaysia, would be that some genius would figure out to call AI cars to some dogdy corner of KL, and start stealing car parts while the AI sat passively not harming humans!

So if autonomous vehicles ever landed in Malaysia, and you saw a couple of guys jacking up Uber cars to remove the rims–you know what’s happening.

Passcodes should be protected

Diverse_torture_instrumentsSome people are fans of medieval torture, and who can blame them. There’s just something about the sadistic treatment of people that makes us both want to watch with a bowl of popcorn in our hands, yet at the same time turn away in disgust and discomfort.

How else do you explain the popularity of shows like Saw?

I personally am a fan of the Iron Maiden, which before it became a name of rock band, was a evil torture device designed to impale its victims with spikes, but meticilously avoid crucial organs thereby prolonging the agony, letting the victim slowly bleed to death rather than die from something boring like heart failure or liver damage.

There’s a list on Wikipedia, that has all the gory details of medieval torture techniques, including keel-hauling (which I always though was some pirate term) and Scaphism, which is  a Persian specialty where the victims dies of Diarrhea.

It’s a whole new level when the victim dies of Diarrhea—Diarrhea!! (and the smart-ass know it all types probably are thinking that Persia wasn’t in the medieval period–yes, I know and I don’t care)

[*Steve in the comments points out that Scaphism didn’t really die from diarrhea but from insects feasting on them. Which doesn’t exactly make it sound any better ]

Fortunately, we live in a modern world, where such barbarism is consigned to history classes rather than current affair shows, and trust me while water boarding is torture, it’s probably a couple of rungs lower on the cruelty scale than an Iron Maiden or Scaphism.

It’s good to view out past just to figure our far along we’ve come along as a species, to take stock in the great progress we’ve made in civil liberties. Torture is a fine example of such progress, but take for example the what 16th century English had to deal with, when they were sent to the Star Chamber! Continue reading