Adventures of in the land of pixels and code

Stupidest Thing I've Read All Decade

Written on May 22nd, 2014. Check out the comments and discussion, too!

The Indonesian government has decided to remove English and Computer classes from elementary school. Your read that right.

Looks like I’m in for another rage session. This is slightly old news, but the severity just came to my attention when schools started dropping them off the schedule.

school

Hold on, let me look at a poignant snapshot of our education situation first. It’ll help me calm down. Okay, maybe not.

My sentence above should make my point. In a world where we have insane amounts of information at our fingertips through the power of computers and global outreach… We decide to turn around and say “meh, we probably don’t have enough people to teach the stuff, why bother?”

I’m not making that bit up, by the way. I kid you not:

Terkait bahasa Inggris tidak terdapat dalam kurikulum SD, Ramon menerangkan, kalau bahasa Inggris dimasukkan dalam kurikulum berarti wajib diajarkan di setiap SD. Padahal tidak semua daerah memiliki sarana pendukung untuk diberikan pelajaran bahasa Inggris.

Misalnya, ujar Ramon, di daerah pelosok, tenaga pengajar bahasa Inggris belum ada. Nanti kalau dipaksakan masuk dalam kurikulum malah diajarkan oleh orang yang tidak memiliki kapasitas mengajarkannya.

“Kalau anak-anak diajar oleh orang yang tidak paham isi materinya nanti malah rusak. Makanya lebih baik bahasa Inggris tidak dipaksakan masuk kurikulum,” kata Ramon.

tl;dr: you know, some schools lack the teachers, so welp, screw it.

Because encouraging a stronger education workforce to go around and teach children essential communication skills is asking too much. No, no, that would be outrageous. I’m sure no poorly managed school would fire their english and computer teachers to save some cash, either.

For the love of pachyderms.

I can launch into an exhaustive speech about stupid decisions that try to increase numbers by lowering the bar rather than raising performance, but they guessed my move: the government’s quick to state that, YES, if your school DOES want to teach English, it totally CAN!

Bahasa Inggris dan TIK, kata Ramon, merupakan mata pelajaran muatan lokal. Artinya setiap SD boleh memasukkan atau tidak memasukkan bahasa Inggris dan TIK dalam mata pelajarannya.

“Misalnya saja, SD pulangnya jam 12 siang. Maka mereka bisa menambahkan mata pelajaran bahasa Inggris dengan menambah satu jam mata pelajaran, jadi anak SD pulang jam satu siang karena belajar bahasa Inggris,” kata Ramon menerangkan.

… You know, just like it totally can teach us about horseback riding, coffee brewing and not-giving-a-crap.

Good sirs, “you can still do it if you want” is probably the worst excuse to reduce a standard this side of Saturn. The reason standards exist is to enforce a level of knowledge. By omitting something from the standard, you’re telling people it’s not important — and as a technology advocate, I will happily remind you that the whole world runs on technology and english.

Ignorance can only get you so far.

I had a chat with my associates in the education industry, and it appears the official justification says that English “is too hard” and computers “can be learnt at home”. But worry not! They’ll get some basic English in grades 7 through 12. You know, basic’s all they need.

My forehead tells me I cannot physically facepalm harder than I did just now.

They should drop math while we’re at it, I’m pretty sure every parent can teach their kids basic addition. We can also drop — oh who am I kidding, we should drop everything except history. That stuff’s hard.

Oh, but the newer, cooler politicians must have a different point of view, right? Right?

Gubernur DKI Jakarta Joko Widodo mendukung sejumlah perubahan yang tercantum dalam Kurikulum 2013. Salah satunya adalah penghapusan pelajaran Bahasa Inggris dari kurikulum Sekolah Dasar.

“Saya kira untuk siswa SD lebih baik diperkuat pelajaran Bahasa Indonesia dan muatan lokal,” katanya di RSUD Koja, Jakarta Utara, Rabu, 11 Desember 2013.

Menurut dia, pelajaran Bahasa Inggris lebih baik diberikan kepada siswa SMP. Alasannya, supaya siswa sekolah dasar lebih memiliki rasa nasionalisme.

Nationalism, eh. Yeah, screw this whole “global industry based on technology” stuff. Don’t worry, kids, fucking your generation over the international workforce is totally worth you going home an hour early in grade school.

So when things go to shit 15 years from now…

… Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Yes, Telkom Speedy is Showing You Ads, and Yes, They're Keeping Your Browsing History

Written on March 24th, 2014. Check out the comments and discussion, too!

This is now in the realms of “what the fuck are you doing, Telkom”. Use Speedy? Consider switching ISPs, now.

Telkom, Indonesia’s largest teleco company, hasn’t enjoyed the greatest reputation over the years, but they’re not bad at what they do as an ISP with their Speedy service. On the other hand, their sister company Telkomsel, which serves the mobile industry, has been injecting ads into users browsing over 3G for a while now.

telkomsel-interstitial

Looks like Telkom didn’t want to miss out on the extra cash.

So yes, Telkom Speedy is now injecting ads into websites you visit — even if you’re a paying customer.

I first learned about this on this very blog - a conspicuous gap at the bottom, after my footer, appeared:

u-ad-gap

I panicked for a second, worried my host got compromised. Right before I speed-dialed their support line, I used Chrome’s devtools to check out what was going on…

u-ad-devtools

A website called u-ad.info was injecting Google Analytics (holy shit, what?) and other reporting information. Aaaand, who owns this site?

u-ad-site

Yeah, Telkom. Now, to be clear, it turns out that Telkom does mention the right to ad injection in their user agreement (hat-tip to Arief Wahyudi). That in itself is pretty terrible, but then you see this on the u-ad.info site:

u-ad-history

That’s the bit where they say they’ll store your browsing and location history for targeted advertistments. If ads don’t scare you, this should. Web analytics alone are worrying, but coupled with the fact that Telkom as a company has all your personal data as well, this is probably an outright intrusion of personal privacy — and Indonesians are poorly educated on the subject. There are various ways to get around this by blocking the u-ad.info domain or by VPS, but I haven’t been able to find a way to opt-out of tracking, including a quick call I had with their customer support.

Yeah, that’s it, I’m switching ISPs.

The Problem With Bhinneka.com - A critical review

Written on January 10th, 2014. Check out the comments and discussion, too!

Online shop Bhinneka.com has been the first stop for many internet-goers in Indonesia for years now; I’ve been a customer for over a year now (and I’ve touted them before). They proudly call themselves the “#1 webstore” — but frankly, that’s a pretty low bar in Indonesia. I’ve run into problems with them before, and I felt it’d be worth leaving a review; both for my friends, and for Bhinneka themselves.

Short version: better than every other similar service in Indonesia, but uncertain stock and long wait times are an issue.

Update: On the same day this went up, I heard back from a senior representative of Bhinneka. That’s excellent feedback response right there; great job! I will edit or add a follow-up post with more when things pop up. I must say that it’s an outstanding start.

I’m typing this on a chilly Friday afternoon in Jakarta. We’re a laid-back country, but in a city of massive traffic and commerce, I prefer getting stuff shipped to me. So last Tuesday, right before lunch, I went ahead and ordered three things off Bhinneka:

  • A UV lens filter (49mm) for my new E-mount 35mm f/1.8 prime (people are going to start hate-mailing me about using a UV filter for “protection”, but they save me lots of finger smudging). Great lens, by the way.
  • A Ducky Mechanical keyboard; brown switches, of course. I’d personally prefer a DAS, but they’re not listed, and shipping in would be too expensive.
  • As an afterthought, another 8GB piece of RAM for my iMac (it’s ageing, but I’m not getting a new mac till they release one with a retina display — or I can get a good IPS 4K display). I need more RAM for my Minecraft server.

So I set my order, selected free shipping, sent my money over a bank transfer, and 3 hours later someone verified my purchase. My account page now said “In Process”.

Here was my first hitch in the story: I called the next day, asking if I could pick a different delivery option. I wanted my stuff by the weekend, if possible, and I was willing to pay extra for overnight delivery if I could. I called in, and the CS dude outright said “no”. Most companies will have a canned response for this — “we’re considering this option in the future, subscribe to our newsletter for updates” — but Bhinneka just said “no”. I was given a 2-7 (workday) estimate, and there was nothing else I could do.

I later worked out that they have a special fleet of delivery motorbikes to send stuff faster — but I could only request that manually by ordering via phone, not for online purchases. I can’t really understate the hilarious backwardness of this part.

(Tip for startups: Please don’t do this. When a customer is willing to pay a premium for something in a hurry, at least demand a 250% markup and personally deliver it in a limousine, if nothing else is available.)

And now it’s friday — and I’m finally told that my keyboard isn’t available.


bhinneka-email


This isn’t the first time I had an order rejected; I’ve had previous purchases stuck in the pipes too. This first happened with a U2314 Dell Ultrasharp, which had a week of back-and-forth, then silence for about 2 weeks before cancelling (though they later restocked it and I did buy it off the bat). Another time, it was an EyeFi memory card to transfer photos from my camera to my laptop over WiFi. I really wanted this one, so I asked them to hold on to my cash until a unit was available; a few months later, they called me to inform me that the unit was still not available, and I just asked them to replace with a Logitech G600 gaming mouse (also great, by the way).

It’s worth noting that the rejected purchases were “esoteric” items; they’re all amongst the most expensive products in their categories, and they probably aren’t commonly stocked. But they’re also “enabling” products; like that guy screaming on Apple vs Android forums about why everyone else seems to care so much about feature X, they do something that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do (the same way) without.

The customer support officer wasn’t immediately able to find out if there were any variants of my keyboard available, and this all took place on a Friday evening (day #4), so I probably won’t hear from them again until Monday.

An email (perhaps automated, this time from an official address instead of a support staff email) came in a bit later to inform me that my product is “being processed” with good progress and is in “preparation”. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but it’s past office hours.

Hopefully I get everything by the end of this week. Or at least minus the keyboard, if they can’t get that.

The Small Print

Bhinekka’s website clearly warns about this, and it’s in their terms and conditions; I understand that, unlike Amazon, they don’t personally stock all their products in a big warehouse. Instead, they seem to rely on smaller distributors to manage their item availability.

It’s a great strategy, but the lack of inventory management simply isn’t reasonable. When a company advertises themselves as a tech-savvy shop, they should be able to find out item stocks with one keystroke (if not just outright say how many stocks are left on the site itself).

This is a huge deal because we customers shop online for convenience; namely, time convenience. The threshold for same-city shipping is about 5 days tops; any longer, and customers could just wait for a weekend and buy the stuff themselves. Granted, no two customers are alike, but a 2-7 day delivery promise — with a day #4 alert that my product isn’t available — is pretty slow for today’s standards. This is doubly crazy because there is no option for faster shipping.

So I understand why this is happening — I’m just criticising that it is happening.

They’re doing a good job. It could just be better.

Still the best around (for now)

I still firmly believe that Bhinneka remains the best of the few reliable online stores we have (in Indonesia). Its customer support isn’t great, but at least it exists and works most of the time. For my friends picking an online shop, I highly recommend them. The problem is that they lack a strong competitor, so they currently don’t really need to innovate.

I truly hope that will change — and it looks like it will.

Similar stores are springing up — I personally have great hope for Lazada, which has a more varied selection to shop from. But with Bhinneka’s current state of more “specialist” gear, this distinction may be fading.

IKEA is coming to Jakarta soon as well. They won’t really trample on Bhinneka’s business, but this is preceding a wave of international-class stores expanding into Indonesia.

The digital sea-change is ongoing here in the archipelago, and I truly hope Bhinneka will step up their game — they probably need it.

But for now, enjoy the weeklong waits and worried glancing at your inbox to hear if your gear isn’t in stock.

Parents, Bring Your Kids To a Zoo (And Teach Them About Computers)

Written on October 15th, 2013. Check out the comments and discussion, too!

Here in Indonesia, we have an annual holiday where people donate livestock for charity. It’s a Muslim occasion called Eid Al–Adha. It brings together families to gather and pray, while being in direct contact with cows and goats. Which means kids and animals. And kids really like playing with animals.

Sadly, most kids have no clue how to deal with livestock, and they don’t realize the danger they’re in. I watched a bunch of kids (attempt to) repeatedly stab a cow in the eye before it moo’d angrily and they scurried away.

I don’t blame the kids. They’re juveniles; it’s their parents’ responsibility. And sometimes the parents don’t know any better, either.

idul-adha

This guy had the sanity to accompany his child over; I didn’t dare take a shot of the kids stabbing cows.

I blame the “system”. With no popular nature documentary available on local TV (without paying the $40/mo or so for cable TV, and then you probably still need to pay people to even watch National Geographic), kids don’t learn to respect nature. They don’t respect wildlife — or livestock — because they don’t know that an angry cow could easily break their ribs.

These incidents are rare — and probably undocumented. But how do you teach this sort of thing to children if their schools and TV doesn’t?

Bring them to a zoo.

Now here’s where I, again, blame the “system”. Jakarta, the capital city of a nation supposedly proud of it’s ecosystem, has one zoo. One. There are a couple more within 6 hours drive, but most parents lack the vehicle to bring their kids there, much less the time. If we don’t teach our kids how to gently approach and pat an animal — which is typically completely safe, while supervised — they’re just going to go around tickling sleeping dragons.

hogwarts-coat2

The one source where they might actually learn this from.

And this applies to all parts of life. If we don’t teach our kids how to properly use the internet, and they see this form blocking their way to a super-popular website all the cool kids use…

facebook-login

… Who are we to blame when their personal information, passwords and photos leak out to the world?

Picking Your Best Monitor Setup

Written on August 17th, 2013. Check out the comments and discussion, too!

“Riz, since monitors are getting cheap nowadays, I feel like we should have more freedom in picking our screen setup based on what we need, not what we can afford. What should I get as a programmer?” — Email that arrives once every few days

These people are absolutely right: good quality monitors, with great color accuracy, IPS displays and other wizardry, are getting cheap. As professionals, we’re now able to afford multiple monitor setups as we see fit — done right, they can strongly boost productivity. But which setup?

Here’s my answer.

I’m going to throw out the common monitor configurations that you’ll see out there.

As you’d probably guess, the best monitor setup for you depends on what you need it for. While reading these different configurations, keep in mind what you want to do most on your computer.

monitor-mono

The vanilla configuration. Cheap, and actually really effective if you only have 1 application open at once.

Having one monitor can actually improve productivity if done correctly. It reduces distractions from side screens, and forces focus on one thing. It also minimizes the need to drag windows around. But for anyone who needs more than 1 application open at once, it just won’t cut it.

monitor-satellite

Coupled with the “should I get a laptop or desktop” question, this is the go-to setup for laptop owners who want practicality. Having just a monitor and associated peripherals allows you to sit your laptop on a cooling stand, and work with all the goodies a desktop can bring.

This is the path Apple took with the Thunderbolt Display (which is now probably waiting for a refresh). One connection to all sorts of outputs, including extra USB and ethernet.

For extra awesome, place your backup drives alongside your monitor.

You will need a powerful laptop with a graphics card to pull this off smoothly.

monitor-double

The Double is a common setup, but I really don’t recommend it. It’s preferable to have one screen to focus on, and not having a “middle” screen can get confusing. But if your line of work needs you to have 2 similar applications at once, it can be a good deal.

I highly suggest that both screens are the same make and model, to help them seamlessly blend into 1 desktop in your mind. The slightest color or size difference can throw you off.

For people with more dynamic needs, however, I tend to recommend…

monitor-couple

This is my favorite setup: 2 mismatched monitors. They don’t have to be exactly like the picture; one smaller monitor next to another, or both being horizontal, or any other setup qualifies. They just have to look clearly different.

Here’s why it’s so awesome: having a clear distinction between the monitors (as well as having a “main” one) allows you to have 2 divided workspaces.

Many workflows benefit greatly from 2 monitors as 2 clearly separate areas, such as having your Photoshop toolbars and windows on one screen, with the canvas on another. Or type HTML on the side-window and refresh your browser on the main. Or type a text document (or angry forum post) on one, research wikipedia on the other. Play Minecraft on the big screen, open wiki pages off the side.

Most of these benefits can also be gained on a twin setup, but the mental difference of having completely distinct monitors is key. You can focus entirely on one screen, or focus on the other. You can glance or compare between them without distracting your concept of which area is which.

I highly suggest a contrasting setup like this for most developers and designers. Hell, probably most people.

If you want overkill, though…

monitor-triple

There’s actually a maximum number of pixels you can have before you just have too much space. Your mouse movement needs to go too far and your eyes keep seeking for the window you’re looking for.

If you’re going for this, I suggest using small monitors (under 23 inches) and preferably not widescreen. Stumpy, square-ish screens would be best. I’ve seen triplets of 30” wide screens out there, and while they do look damn awesome, they’re also damn impractical (and expensive).

This setup is great if you have a vast number of things to pay attention to at the same time. It highly benefits from having touch (or air) based input devices, so you don’t have to swoosh your mouse all over the place. Keyboard shortcuts and application switchers also help. Crazy people like sysadmins would love this one.

Conclusion

My generic advice? Get a big main screen, and get a good satellite for it (such as my much-loved Dell U2312HM which is incredibly well-suited for this task). 99% of the people I talk to could benefit most from a double-monitor, distinct-desktop setup.

As with all tech, this will probably change over time. Having access to the Leap Motion, for me, allows me to jump quicker between screens, and I’m still trying to figure out how to do this well. Currently it doesn’t work at all, but it’s supposedly in the works. Full touch monitors would also change the game entirely.

So heads up, readers from 2016. Your Minority Report interfaces are probably better anyway.