Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Family retreat weekend to Felda Residence Hot Springs, Sungkai, Perak

Last week, my family had a nice retreat weekend to Felda Residence Hot Springs, Sungkai, Perak.

Sungkai is a small town near to Bidor, accessible from either North-South Expressway or federal trunk road.

The Felda Residence Hot Springs is quite some distance away from Sungkai town, hiding deep inside an oil palm plantation area. Not to be worried, there are a lot of sign boards showing the way to this attraction along the way, so it is pretty easy to find.

We booked a 3-bedroom villa from MATTA Fair quite some times ago. The price was RM600 for one night stay including breakfast for 6 persons.

After entering the entrance, we need to register our stay and get the key of the villa from the reception, located in a building with a large car park in front of it. The hot springs park and villas are located quite some distance away from the reception building.

The 3-bedroom villa is very nice. It has a quadrangle design with a private Jacuzzi at the center.

It has a nice living room with flat panel TV...

... and a fully furnished kitchen.

Its 3 bedrooms are large and comfortable. This is the master bedroom.

The Felda Residence Hot Springs has a cold mountain springs swimming pool...

... and of course, the natural hot springs pool.

In the place where hot springs flow out from underground, we can have egg boiling activity. The water temperature there is close to 100 degree Celcius.

We had our dinner in Sungkai town. There are a few famous Chinese restaurant in the town, such as Choy Kee (财记) and Sun Kee (新记).

The next morning, we had our buffet breakfast at the restaurant within walking distance from the villa. There is nothing much to shout about the food, but considered quite OK if you don't have high expectation.

One thing to note is that, Celcom has a good HSDPA Internet coverage at Felda Residence Hot Springs in Sungkai, while the Internet speed of Maxis and Digi there is pretty slow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000 - my first wireless mouse

Recently the mouse attached to my desktop PC became less responsive and less precise to scrolling, and I decided to replace it.

I have been using wired mouse all the while, be it PC or laptop. Wired mouse has the advantages of being cheaper price, lightweight, operates without the need of battery, and precise pointer handling.

However, wireless mouse is cool, can operate quite a long distance away from the computer, and its price gap with wired mouse has gone narrower and narrower. I decided to give it a try.

I have finalized my selection between Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000 and Logitech Couch M515 Mouse. Their similarity being able to work on almost all type of surfaces, can scroll sideway by tilting the scroll wheel, and has a comparatively bigger size than most other wireless mice (though still slightly smaller than normal wired desktop mouse).

The price of Logitech Couch M515 Mouse is higher, and I doubt the M515 is still in production as it can hardly be found in the market. Therefore, I settled down with Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000, which cost me around RM70 (bought from Lazada with credit card discount campaign).

The Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000 comes with a nano transceiver running on 2.4Ghz wireless technology. It can be stowed at the bottom of the mouse, which will intelligently turn off the power of the mouse. When first plugged into the USB port of my PC, the installation program is automatically loaded, and it will automatically pair with the mouse.

All the 4 buttons on the mouse (left button, right button, scroll wheel button and left button) are programmable with Microsoft Mouse and keyboard Center which is automatically downloaded and installed when first use.

The wheel button can be used to quickly flip through opened applications in Windows 7. It is be programmed for other function too.

The scrolling speed of its wheel is also programmable.

I like the smooth scrolling of this Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000, particularly the accelerated vertical scrolling function.

This is a 1,000dpi mouse, which I find it moving quite slow on the screen. This can easily be solved by setting the pointer speed to be faster under Windows' Control Panel > Mouse Properties > Pointer Options.

Despite it weights heavier than my previous wired mouse, and the need of changing battery in the future, I like this mouse very much for its ergonomic design and size, good set of programmable functionalities, precise BlueTrack Technology that can even work on glossy surface, and being wireless with freedom to operate from any location near to the computer.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Converted my CIMB Petronas Platinum Mastercard to CIMB Cash Rebate Platinum Mastercard

Recently, I have successfully converted my CIMB Petronas Platinum Mastercard to CIMB Cash Rebate Platinum MasterCard, and the process is more straightforward than I thought.

I just made a call to CIMB credit card customer service center to request for the card convertion, and upon approval (1 week later), the conversion was done and I received my new CIMB Cash Rebate Platinum MasterCard.

Sharing out my credit card conversion experience here:
  • The credit balance of existing card will be transferred to the new card.
  • The auto-payment arrangement (for utility, telco, etc.) with existing card is automatically carried across to the new card. The auto-payment seamlessly continues in the new card.
  • The CIMB 0% Easy Pay instalment payment plan with the existing card seamlessly continues on the new card. 
  • The CIMB Touch 'n Go Zing card that tied to the existing card will now be tied to the new card. I have successfully made an auto-reload to the Zing card just as before.
  • The RM50 Government Service Tax period continues from the existing card, and will only be charged upon expiry.
  • The new card has a new expiry date, which is later than the existing card.
  • The CIMB Cash Rebate Platinum MasterCard is capped with a maximum credit limit of RM20k only. If your existing card has a higher credit limit, it will be reduced to RM20k.
Conclusion: with CIMB, if you want to switch from one card to another, you don't need to cut your existing card and apply for the new card. Just make a call to the customer service center to request for the conversion. You will need to verify your identity over the phone with some questions and answers, but the good news is, you don't even need to fill in any application form for the new card. The auto-payment, Easy Pay instalment and Touch 'n Go Zing will also be automatically migrated to the new card without any hassle on your side.

Monday, February 17, 2014

PDF Split and Merge (PDFsam), free tool to split, merge, extract, rotate, reorder pages in PDF files

If you want to extract a few pages from a PDF file to another PDF file, or you want to insert a few PDF pages (such as the cover page) into an existing PDF file, what tool will you use to accomplish that?

There are several commercial tools available, which require you to buy a license. There are also several shareware tools and online tools which imposed a lot of limitation to the PDF file, such as with an accepted maximum page of a small number only.

I am using a free tools with the open source GPL2 license to do this. It is called PDF Split and Merge (PDFsam) Basic, developed by an Italian guy Andrea Vacondio and his team.

PDF Split and Merge Basic is able to:

  • Split your PDF documents (into chapters, single pages, etc.).
  • Merge many PDF documents or subsections of them.
  • Extract sections of your document into a single PDF document.
  • Mix alternate pages taken from two PDF documents in straight or reverse order into a single document.
  • Rotate pages of the selected PDF documents.
  • Visually reorder pages of a selected PDF document.
  • Visually compose a document dragging pages from selected PDF documents.
  • Save and load your workspace to automate your recurrent jobs.
  • Manage PDFsam settings and set a workspace to load at start up.
PDFsam is running on Java, and is cross-platform. You can run it on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and the developer has also created a trimmed down version called PDF Merge for Android.

It has a simple and clean user interface, making it pretty easy to use.

You can download PDFsam here: http://www.pdfsam.org/download/

There is also an Enhanced version of PDFsam, which the source code is available. The developer has requested for a donation of any amount, and he will provide you with the compiled executable file and installer.

The additional functions in PDFsam Enhanced version are:
  • Encrypt your PDF files (RC40 bits, RC128 bits, AES128 bits) and set permissions on them.
  • Add a PDF document as front page or addendum (or both) to your PDF documents.
  • Mix alternate pages taken from two PDF documents in straight or reverse order into a single document.
  • Extract attached files from a PDF document.
  • Decrypt your PDF files.
  • Set viewer options to tell the viewer application how should open the document.
  • Set the metadata of a document (author, title, subject and keywords).

Sunday, February 16, 2014

EPF declared 6.35% dividend for FY2013

With the approval from Minister of Finance, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF, a.k.a. Kumpulan Wang Simpanan Pekerja, KWSP)  declared on 16 February 2014 for the dividend rate of financial year ending 31 December 2013 to be 6.35%, representing a dividend payout of RM31.20 billion to its members, up 13.66% over the RM27.45 billion paid in FY2012.

EPF gross investment income from Malaysian Government Securities & Equivalents and from Loans & Bonds have decreased from previous year, while the income from Equities, Money Market Instruments and Real Estate & Infrastructure have increased.

 As the EPF membership rose to more than 13 million, a total of RM4.91 billion was required to pay every 1% dividend rate for 2013. This was 10.06% higher compared with RM4.46 billion paid for every 1% dividend rate for 2012. The amount needed to pay a 1% dividend would continue to grow between 8%-9% annually.

The Fund’s total overseas exposure constituted 20.97% of its total investment assets based on book value as at end December 2013, registering a rise from 16.98% the year before. During the year under review, the EPF had outsourced USD2.20 billion to the external fund managers for global equity mandates, while a total of RM2.25 billion and RM850 million were injected  into domestic fixed income and equity mandates respectively.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

SMB and Media Server sharing of my external harddisk with TP-Link TL-WDR3600 router to PCs, tablets and TV box

I have just purchased a Transcend StoreJet 25A3 USB 3.0 1TB external harddisk from Lazada at the cost of  RM189 (with discounted price of RM219 and Lazada Chinese New Year voucher of RM30) and successfully shared it out with my TP-Link TL-WDR3600 router to my PC, laptops, Android tablets and HiMedia Q5II TV box using the SMB (Microsoft Server Message Block network file sharing protocol) as well as Media Server service.

This article is to record and share out my experience in setting up this external harddisk sharing.

By default, the Transcend StoreJet 25A3 is formatted with a single FAT32 partition occupying all its 1TB storage capacity. I learnt that the FAT32 partition type has the limitation in file size capped at a maximum of 4GB only. 4GB is just too small for partition image backup, for HD movie images and some other files which have big size.

I have tried to format the Transcend StoreJet 25A3 into different file systems, and here is my finding:

  • NTFS - this is supported by my TL-WDR3600 router. However, it is not a preferred file system for Linux (which is used in the firmware of the router), and its read/write speed is slow.
  • EXT2 - this is the most preferred file system for external harddisk connected to a Linux host. However, it is not supported by the stock firmware of my TL-WDR3600 router.
  • EXT3 - this is basically EXT2 with a journalized file system. It is also not supported by the stock firmware of my TL-WDR3600 router.
  • EXT4 - this is the most commonly used file system in Linux today. It is also not supported by the stock firmware of my TL-WDR3600 router.
As I need NTFS to store large files, and also FAT32 as a more stable file system for Linux host to store smaller files, I ended up formatting my Transcend StoreJet 25A3 into 2 primary partitions, one NTFS and another FAT32.

The harddisk partitioning and formatting was done using MiniTool Partition Wizard Home Edition, which is a free harddisk partition management software running on Windows that is capable of dealing with FAT32, NTFS, EXT2, EXT3 and EXT4 file systems. Most other Windows based partition management software can't deal with Linux file systems such as EXT2, EXT3, EXT4, etc.

After the partitioning and formatting, I made a Windows system image into the NTFS partition of the external harddisk, which is a crucial Windows restoration data that will be critically useful when the Windows system is corrupted (when infected by virus, critical system file is damaged, etc.). This can be done from within Windows 7 by going to Control Panel > System and Security > Backup and Restore > Create a System Image.

Then, I plugged the external harddisk into one of the USB port of my TL-WDR3600 router. Both the NTFS and FAT32 partitions are detected and ready to be shared out.

The stock TP-Link firmware supports USB file sharing using SMB (Storage Sharing), FTP (FTP Server) and Media Server.

Once a folder with photos, videos and/or music is shared out using Media Server, the TP-Link router will be detected as one of the Media Devices in the Network section of Windows 7, and the shared media files are accessible from there. They are also accessible from UPNP media access in HiMedia Q5II TV box.

As for the SMB sharing, it is accessible from Windows by opening Windows Explorer and key-in "\\tplinklogin.net" in the address bar. It is also accessible from Android devices by installing apps that is able to access SMB server, such as ES File Explorer. It is accessible from HiMedia Q5II TV box from SMB media access using the IP address of the router running the SMB service. You need to start the Samba service of the TV box in its Settings page before searching for the SMB server.

For easier future access, I have also mapped a drive in my Windows PC to the shared external harddisk partition.

I heard that the Asus RT-AC68U router supports USB sharing with Linux partition format. You can also add support for EXT2, EXT3, EXT4 in TP-Link router's USB sharing with custom firmware such as OpenWRT. There is reason why I didn't changed my TL-WDR3600 router to use custom firmware, which you can read here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Updated my HTC One to Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) with Sense 5.5

My HTC One received its OTA update from Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) to Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) yesterday (7 February 2014).

The Sense UI version remains as 5.5, so there is not much changes to the UI from previous version in this update.

Here are some of the noticeable changes found in this update:
  • The battery bar in the battery icon changed colour from green (as in Android 4.3) to white.
  • There is a new icon for the Quick Settings screen called HTC Mini+ which can configure the phone to pair up with a HTC Mini+ device.

  • In Settings > Wireless & Networks, we can set the Default SMS app for the phone.

  • BlinkFeed can restrict auto refresh to use WiFi only. Can also configure for offline news reading. Its menu is now accessed by swiping from left side of the BlinkFeed screen.

  • New Location settings screen. The GPS toggle is controlled by the Mode setting here. Anyhow, you can still toggle GPS sensor on/off with the Quick Settings icon as it is still available as before.
  • Change in Gallery app and Music app.
  • Camera screen showing estimated video time and number of photos that can be taken with current storage available. The notorious purple-tint problem is still there, but seems to have improved from previous version (HTC One with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean has the worst purple-tint issue, worse than 4.2 and 4.4)
  • Built in support for Google Cloud printing. You can find a new Printing item in Settings menu.
  • New settings for Do Not Disturb found inside Sound settings.
  • Can switch over to QWERTY keyboard from the T9 keyboard in call dialer, and vice-versa.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What determines the salary of employees

Have you wonder what determines the salary of employees?

In my point of view, the lower limit of the salary is the price offered by employer so that the employee will stay put with the company, and the upper limit is the cost of the company to remain competitive in the business.

If the salary is on the low side compared with market rate, the employee will have a lot of options, including:

  • to join another employer who offer a better package
  • to self-employ
  • to stay at home
If the employer is paying a high salary, the cost of maintaining the company will be high, and that need to be compensated with either one or more of the following:
  • to charge higher price for goods/services provided to customers
  • to tolerate a lower profit margin
  • to cut cost from existing operations
  • to get more customers and/or sell more goods/services to existing customers
If the company charge higher price to customers, the customers might have options to buy from another company, or just not to buy.

If the company tolerate a lower profit margin, that will bring down the net profit, and in turn, lower down the dividend to shareholders/investors.

If the company try to cut cost from existing operations, it might need to sacrifice the quality and/or quantity of goods/services produced, which in turn reduce the customers satisfaction level, and the customers might have options to buy from another company, or just not to buy.

So, it is a rule of thumb that salary cannot be too low, or else the employees will part away. At the same time, it cannot be too high until the business is unsustainable.

The salary is indeed directly related to the productivity of the employee. A productive employee will be able to help the company generates more quantity and quality of goods/services that is saleable to customers, which can realized into sales and profit.

So, its seems that the only feasible option for sustainability is "to get more customers and/or sell more goods/services to existing customers" which needs to be backed up by the productivity of the employees. If the employees are not productive enough, the employer will need to hire more employees, which will then share out the HR salary budget of the company.

The more productive employees deserve higher salary, because competitors are willing to pay for that to bring over the employees to work with them. The supply and demand in job market will naturally drive the salary of productive employees.

In the investment world, there is a common indicator called Price/Earning (P/E) ratio to evaluate the worthiness for investor to buy and hold a share. Perhaps in the mind of the employers, there is also a Salary/Productivity ratio to evaluate the worthiness for the company to employ and maintain the employee.

As an employee, if you want to have high salary, then you need to:
  • be productive
  • join a highly productive company that is very profitable (driven by its productivity)
If you are not very productive and get a high salary, the good time might not be for long. If your company is very profitable but not supported by productivity, the good time might also not be for long.

During the 80's when Dr. Mahathir just became the prime minister, Malaysia is on the right track by emphasizing on productivity to boost the nation's economy, particularly the GDP. It seems that the current government has completely lost track by intervening the pricing of certain goods/services (instead of letting the free competition supply-demand factor to drive the price), intervening the salary with minimum wage, intervening the supply-demand by imposing restrictions that is non-productivity related, etc. Is there any hope that we will be on the right track again, and who will be the long waited hero to put back the right track in place?

Hint: Click on the "Older Posts" link to continue reading, or click here for a listing of all my past 3 months articles.