RFID Havoc

RFID Tolling
  • A switch to RFID-based tolling at MY highways apparently didn't go too smoothly today.
  • Legacy SmartTag (infrared system) toll lanes were retired without a gradual transition to RFID lanes.
  • Users had assumed tolls could be deducted from their TnG cash card balance, when the RFID system could only access their TnG ewallet balance.
  • The ewallet operator TnG got the brickbats when it it is the highway toll operator which should probably be getting a fairer share.
  • Possible hacks: 1) all RFID lanes should have a TnG card reader as a backup 2) if traffic builds up at tolls, the toll operator is obliged to let vehicles through without charge or penalty.
  • Electronic tolling is not trivial, the following sections discuss some technical aspects.

Identification
  • In a manual system, there is no need to id the vehicle. Pay the toll and the boom will lift.
  • Next step up is a plate recognition system using cameras. This simple system requires nothing extra to be fitted to the vehicle. The caveat is the plate number should ideally be tamper and forgery resistant. For payment, just go online or to a kiosk, key in your plate number, and pay any toll owed (pre-payment will also be accepted). If no payment is made, it comes under enforcement (see last section).
  • Next step up is a transponder system, either RFID or infrared. This is more reliable and faster than a plate recognition system. It requires a transponder to be fitted to the vehicle and the vehicle id and ewallet registered against the transponder. This system requires gantries to mark the start and end of toll-able roads.
  • Next step up is GPS tracking. A GPS transponder is fitted to the vehicle. The location of the car is recorded by telco or dedicated sensor towers or satellites. No gantries are needed. Can be used for congestion charging (eg. when driving into a packed downtown on Friday night) or taxation (to replace fuel taxes). What about privacy? We are already being close tracked by mobile phones.

Classification
  • Tolls should be based on how heavy or large a vehicle is.
  • Heavy vehicles cause considerably more wear and tear to roads.
  • Additionally, heavy or larger vehicles pose greater risks to other road users.
  • A static way to classify vehicles is to key in the make and model upon registration.
  • A dynamic way is to scan vehicles using LIDAR, induction or weighbridges at the toll plaza.
  • The system should also be able to distinguish between EVs and ICE vehicles, if EV incentives are applicable.

Transaction
  • This could be via cash card, debit or credit cards or mobile app - stop the vehicle and tap or wave at a reader.
  • Or transponder (insert cash card, debit or credit card or ewallet id into the transponder) - just drive through and let the transponder talk to the reader.
  • It could be pre-paid, pay-on-the-spot or post-paid (like a phone bill).

Enforcement
  • There should be no barriers at tolls to allow a smooth flow of traffic.
  • If a vehicle drives past a toll with insufficient balance or without a transponder, there should be an audible warning and a visible camera flash while the plate number is recorded for post-paid billing.
  • Unpaid bills can be handled over to a collection department with some legislative backing to give it some force.

Notes
  • Why can't TnG card balances be updated from a mobile phone? Theoretically, it can (using an NFC-capable phone), but practically, based on feedback from countries that tried it, it is neither a reliable nor smooth process.
  • Why can't RFID use my TnG card balance to pay tolls. Theoretically, it can, by using a complex delayed-debit system, but the TnG card is not meant to be a primary storage of money. It is based on an older, less secure Mifare Classic technology. A bit obsolete, but still useful as as an offline cash card.

Spring Festival: Endless Love | Silence is Golden


Our video picks for this Spring Festival.

Video 2: A kalimba rendition of Endless Love by April Yang. The kalimba is the simplest keyboard-based musical instrument . This simplicity allows the song's melodic notes to come to the fore.

Video 1: A modern abridged cover of Cantonese classic Silence is Golden by an unnamed songstress. The song is advice to youngsters to not go around with a chip on the shoulder and to stay centred even under difficult circumstances. Lyrics of the full song:

The night wind is blowing
Alone looking back at the old times
It was me in the past, full of resentment

False blames and accusations
Caused great feelings of unfairness to build up
Cared a lot about rumours and responses

Learned the lesson
Led by books and classics
Now can see through it all, no longer locking up myself

Feel that I now know the way
Won’t be as stupid as before
Wipe away the tears, walk forward relaxed and smiling

In fate it has already been decided if you are rich or poor [1]
False will always be false; true will always true
Whatever you say, I’ll be responsible for my own duties
Always believed that silence is golden [2]

There is inherent justice in what is right and wrong
Be careful in speaking so as not to offend others
When cold storms come up, don’t take it too seriously

Confidence fills the heart
No need to care about sarcasm and questioning
Let people laugh and condemn as they like
Live on as a confident and principled person

Young people, live on as a confident and principled person
Continue to walk on, live on as a confident and principled person

[1] Past steps and circumstance determine where you are at now
[2] Explained in the next stanza.
Happy Spring Festival! 

Mamak Bank

Nouveau Banks
  • Airlines parlayed their frequent flyer miles into a lucrative rewards token minting business.
  • On a similar vein, Starbucks has developed their old rewards punch cards into one of the top mobile payment apps in the US, surpassing Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
  • Along the way, Starbucks' holdings of prepayments for coffee, gift cards have exceeded the deposits of some banks.
  • These are examples of businesses that grew their financial products to such a degree they become bank-like, no digital banking license required. (Hint: digital banks can thrive on models other than being replicas of brick-and-mortar banks.)
  • Regulators are possibily giving these nouveau banks some leeway as they do not pose systemic risks to other sectors or vulnerable parties. If Starbucks gets in a bind, only its well-heeled gift card and rewards holders are disadvantaged.
  • As Starbucks payment app become more popular, it can be extended to become frequent flyer miles like: i.e. sell its rewards to other businesses. Example, ride the train and get points for coffee.
  • Post title: If a coffee chain can become a bank, MY's many mamak teh tarik (milk tea outlets), can, plausibly, collectively arrive at their own payment and rewards system.

Twitter Banks
Influencer @jason asked for suggestions for the best online banks. Here are some of the responses (not all are banks):
  • Mercury - Banking built for startups
  • Up - Metaverse bank
  • Ramp - Blazing fast bill payments
  • Willow - Splits bills into 4 payments
  • Novo - Simple business banking
  • Alliant - Bank anywhere, anytime

Digital Commissioner

TnG Tube
  • A while back, we noted Youtube only accepts debit and credit cards for its premium subscription.
  • This meant the unbanked had no choice but to put up with unpleasant and disruptive ads.
  • We are happy to now note that YouTube now accepts payments from the Touch n Go (TnG) ewallet.
  • Thus, the unbanked can plausibly subscribe via this route; cash → purchase ewallet top-up PIN from 7-11 → topup ewallet → purchase YouTube subscription.

Digital Service Commission
TnG is also in the news as the means to pay highway tolls using RFID. The growing ubiquity and usefulness of TnG suggest it is becoming utility-like. As such, there could be a need for some regulatory oversight ('Commissioner') to take the side of common folks:
  • Cannot unreasonably decline, reject or frustrate an application to join service.
  • Threat every member equitably: no cherry-picking, no deliberate shabby service for lower-value customers
  • Cannot suspend, degrade, cancel or boot-out customers arbitrarily with no means of appeal.
  • Cannot confiscate balances of suspended, cancelled customers; dubious or untraceable balances to be transferred to a Commission trust account.
  • No one-sided, onerous or predatory T&C.
Not to put too much onus on service providers. They can graduate their service to make it less abrupt eg. instant sign-up, more privileges upon verification and good behaviour (via merit points etc). For infractions, warning countdowns (first strike, second strike), demerits, sin-bin suspensions etc.

Super App vs Sleek Wallet
  • Ewallets should, at the first instance, focus on core functions: payments (point-of-sale, online, bills, parking etc), balances (accounts, interest, rewards etc), remittance and receipts (local, foreign), third-party integration (Google Pay, Apple Pay etc).
  • Beyond these are secondary services: insurance, lending, credit rating etc.
  • Recently some ewallets have added a bevy of services super-app or yahoo portal style (shopping, deliveries, ticketing, ehailing etc).
  • By our reckoning, going yahoo portal style detracts from the wallet (although the wallet may be getting commissions from it). Unless the ewallet acts as a fussy curator, setting high standards for its downstream affiliates.
  • Here are some other financial products users might be interested in (next section):

Ninja Wallet
  • Basic crypto: but not for trading or speculation (limited transaction size, balances). Paypal-style. Provides safer avenue for noobs wanting to try-out crypto. Restrictions also shield the provider from the moral hazard of being seen to provide an on-ramp to (according to critics) gambling or pyramid-like activities.
  • Digital gold, foreign currencies, reputable stablecoins, index funds, ETFs. Third party providers already exist for experienced players. This is for less knowledgeable common folks backed by a trusted brand and/or institutions.
  • Offline digital payment. Similar to the original pe-loaded TnG card but in app form. Useful for rural areas and where the internet service is weak or non-existent. Empowers small and rural businesses with digital payments.

French Esprit


First Video: Göttingen (a town in Germany) by Pomme. First sung by French singer Barbara (Monique Andrée Serf) at the University of Göttingen in early 1960s, the song, a touching praise of the German town by a French singer was credited for improving relations between France and Germany, after a long series of conflicts between them. These days, the two countries are close allies and cooperate on alliances like Airbus, EU, European Space Agency etc. An example of two nations that learnt the lessons of history. Second Video: Je m'appelle Hélène (My name is Helene), a hit single from the 1990s, by Hélène Rollès.

CES 2022

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicks off Tue (Jan 4-6). Some highlights:
  • CarCopter - Hydrogen-powered flying F1 challenger
  • IAC - High-speed, head-to-head autonomous racecar competition
  • CTA - Exhibitors: US (1.3K) Korea (416), France (247), China (159)
  • JETRO - A contingent of 52 Japanese tech startups across 2 pavilions
  • Blueletti - World's first sodium-ion (vs lithium) battery power station
  • Cyrcle - A phone that is oval, not rectangular, in shape
  • TestNPass - Secure, RFID, biometric health pass
  • TCL X9 - Ultra-thin, 3rd gen, mini-LED powered TV
  • Linklet - Wearable, super wide angle camera with 5 microphones
  • EyeQ Ultra - Autonomous driving supercomputer on a single chip
  • LG DualUp - Double stacked monitor
  • Meural Canvas - High definition NFT art picture frame

2022 First Win: Autopilot

Autopilot
In an unheralded technical milestone, over the Xmas break two Teslas were driven Autopilot from Johor Bahru to Penang (from the south to the north of MY) [v1 v2]. Although highway auto-driving is easier than urban commuting, the event suggests Autopilot:
  • Can handle MY road infra, road signs and lane markings
  • Can read MY's Google Map to accurately navigate
  • Can accommodate MY drivers, bikers and truckers
  • Can count on charging infra (though sparse) for the 680km journey
  • No jarring interventions or incidents noted by the drivers

Engineering
This is a notable achievement for Autopilot's engineers:
  • Who are primarily HQed in Silicon Valley
  • Did not require a MY field test team (though data and feedback may have been remotely gathered from early MY and SG Tesla adopters)
  • Scaled Autopilot from left-hand drive temperate US to right-hand drive tropical MY at the opposite side of the globe.
  • Did not focus the tech for elite locations only, but built it global and accessible from the word go.

Notes
  • As this was possibly a maiden run, the drivers prudently used Autopilot to drive leisurely.
  • The journey took 12 hours, from early morning to evening (normal 8-9 hours) including 3 breaks for charging and encountering congestion between Slim River and Ipoh (about 105km).
  • Full autonomous driving may still have some way to go. But, all in all, in terms of getting safely and comfortably from A to B, this event is a plus for Autopilot.

La Califfa


Auld Lang Syne is commonly sung to bid farewell to the old year, followed by cheers and fireworks to usher in the new year. This coming year, with omizilla on the rise, it is better to avoid crowds. Here, to bid a virtual adieu to the year past, we spotlight La Califfa ('The Lady Caliph'). The visuals of the first video, a YouTuber remix, suggest a wish: 'May We be Kind to Nature and May Nature be Kind to Us'. The second video, a Korean version of La Califfa by Janinto Heaven features stunning camerawork and backdrops. Bonus third video: What a Wonderful World by Reina del Cid.

FloodTech

Future Deluge
  • Big floods will get more common. Due to more intense storms and rising sea levels (high tide + heavy rain = flood) both which are caused by climate change.
  • How to protect a residence, business, factory or warehouse at at-risk locations. How to guard, maintain or even enhance asset or property value?

FloodTech
  • For existing or new single or double-story houses, if possible, give-up the ground floor and turn it into spare, hobby or recreational space. Turn the roof into an extra floor (if structurally possible and allowed by bylaws). The extra floor would be useful for water tanks, an emergency electric power generator, solar panels and batteries, aircons, storage for a boat or two, or as an emergency evacuation space.
  • For high rises, underground parking is not ideal. For above-ground, multi-storey parking, turn the first one or two stories into guest parking, EV charging bays or recreational space. Ensure the emergency electric power generator (which most high rises are required to have to power the lifts during a power failure) is on high ground.
  • Factories or warehouses should be built new or upgraded so that essential operations and equipment are on the first floor or higher, with the ground floor used for extra parking and casual storage or utility. Another solution is flood barriers (takes time to activate).
  • For shops and for those renting, leasing or not tied down to fixed property, move to higher ground. Or price deluge risk into ground floor rentals.
  • For vehicles, waterproof EVs might be a future answer (to inundation). Presently, there could be market opportunity for flood-resistant ICE vehicles: sealed electronics and tanks (fuel, lube, transmission), sealed passenger cabin, and snorkels or caps for the air intake, exhaust pipe and ventilation.
  • Ditto household electrical appliances: fridge, washer, TV etc.

Girlfriend NFT | Fungible Tokens

Non-Fungible GF 1
  • What happens if a girl digitises herself as an girlfriend NFT?
  • You, the NFT buyer, get to claim the girl is is your girlfriend.
  • You get exclusive bragging rights, and a photo of her to keep in your wallet - to show curious relatives during get-togethers.
  • But, you can't date or bother her.
  • Just a fun demo of the 'arms length' nature of NFTs, but you can apply a more personable version to lunch with Warren Buffet.
  • Last held in 2019 when a crypto bro paid $4.6M for the privilege. Buffet honoured the deal even though the crypto guy cancelled once and brought along 4 other crypto bros for lunch.
  • Such a lunch could be sold as an NFT. If he original winning bidder can't make it to lunch, or needs some fast cash, he could resell his NFT to another person (if Buffet is OK with the new guest).

Fungible Tokens 2
  • While non-fungible gets all the attention, it is fungible tokens (or just tokens, cryptocurrency is a particular instance) that have been doing real work.
  • An example is frequent flyer miles or points. For every $1 spent on tickets, get around 3-4% back in frequent flyer points. These points are old-school tokens.
  • Issued by airline companies, acting as abanker, redeemable for discounts in buying flight tickets.
  • As frequent flyers are often well-off, corporate executives or go-getters, the frequent flyer program has a natural, valuable membership of elite big spenders and influencers.
  • Consequently, credit card companies and retail outlets wanted in on the program. They would buy frequent flyer points from the airlines (like buying crypto) to offer as incentives for customers eg. spend $100 at our restaurant and get 10 frequent flyer points.
  • The frequent flyer program is so lucrative and valuable, it is worth more than the airlines themselves (the flight operations).

Call of Duty


Initially, we had planned to feature this abridged acapella version of Do You Hear The People Sing [song starts at 2:30] by students of the Baldwin-Wallace College Musical Theatre as one of our Xmas songs. A piece a bit more spirited than then the usual melodious carols. Taking a non-denominational interpretation of the lyrics, here it is as a salute to ordinary folks who, when the chips were down, unhesitantly rushed to help their neighbours.

Tempestzilla

  • After being smoked and choked by some 40 billion extra tonnes of CO2 each year, mother nature seems to be pushing back with 'wraths of nature'. First, bugzilla and now tempestzilla: floods (EU | CN | IN | MY vid), typhoon (PH), tornadoes (US) and other phenomena.
  • While floods are usually extensive and widespread, individual businesses can mitigate against being inundated using technology such as Neo-Barrier, Divulium, Dam Easy and Flow Defence. Or, if it makes financial sense,. move the factory, warehouse or office one floor up, and turn the ground floor into parking or spare space.
  • On the other side of the coin is drought (TW). Businesses could prepare by installing reserve water tanks, or if it makes ROI sense, private reservoirs, recycling or desalination facilities .
  • Another example of risk management is Maybank, a MY bank, setting up a secondary HQ in i-City. Useful if the main HQ is locked down due to bugzilla etc.
  • Bonus: EVs are better at handling wet conditions vs ICE vehicles. Unlike ICE, where water can enter via the air intake and the exhaust, the batteries, motor, drivetrain, electronics and even the cabin of EVs are sealed against the ingress of water (example). Handy if caught driving or parking in unusually big puddles and still have the vehicle continue running or start.

Electric Economy

Pivotal Changes
  • The Industrial Revolution ushered in iron works, mechanical machines, factories and mass production.
  • At the same time, and less well known, the industrial Chemical Revolution brought about synthetics, plastics, fertilisers, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, fuels and batteries.
  • The Electronic Revolution gave rise to transistors, semi-conductors, computers, servers and the internet.
  • Presently, we could be at the start of an Electric Transition.
  • An example of the transition is Anglo-Dutch oil and gas giant (and ubiquitous petrol/gas retailer) awarding a global EV charging supply contract to AU-based Tritium.
  • A first step, Shell's stations could in the future provide a full range of electric products in addition to fossil fuels (see next section).

E-Stations

  • Fast charging (for EVs)
  • Battery swapping (Nio-style for EVs, or Gogoro-style for ebikes)
  • Hydrogen or ammonia pumping (if hydrogen ever makes the grade)
  • Electrical storage (stores electricity during off-peak hours)
  • Convenience and dining outlets for owners waiting for recharge

Electric Economy
If Shell aspires to take the lead in e-stations, what other electric economy niches are there where a leader hasn't clearly emerged?
  • Light EV - If an EV is a half to a tenth the cost of standard EVs, then it stands to logic it is 2x to 10x as sustainable (needs less copper, lithium, nickel, electricity etc) without the need for any drastic tech leaps. Wuling's $5K-priced Mini sets a benchmark, but it looks more like an experiment meant for the CN market (outside it costs 2x to 4x more) than a global visionary product. Sedans, SUVs, pickups are great but this might be a green niche to watch out for.
  • Heavy EV - These are the trucks, lorries, vans and buses. This is a nascent and heavily contested field. Suppliers include Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes, BYD, Proterra, VDL, Hyundai, BrightDrop and many others.
  • E-Scooters - Quietly and without fanfare, India has incubated a sprawling electric scooter ecosystem with offerings like Bounce Infinity, iQube Electric, Komaki Delux, Hero Optima, Ather Energy, Ola Electric, Bajaj Chetak, Simple Energy, Darwin EVAT, Eeve Soul, TVS XL, Okaya FreedumOkinawa PraisePro
  • Other niches - Alternative (solar, nuclear, hydro) power, battery technology (including reycling), independent EV service, electrical engineering studies, grid resilience, charging infra, car app development, e-bikes, robotaxis, transport planning & integration.

Ultrafast Grocery Delivery

There is a surge of ultrafast grocery delivery startups in the US and Europe. The basic premise is to deliver groceries and fast moving consumer goods in minutes. Sample players:
  • GoPuff - Daily essentials delivered in minutes
  • Gorillas- Groceries delivered in 10 minutes
  • Getir - At your door in minutes
  • Yango Deli - Groceries delivered in 15 minutes
  • Weezy - Quality groceries delivered in minutes
  • Fridge No More - 15 minute grocery delivery
  • Buyk - Groceries delivered in 15 minutes
  • Jiffy - Fresh groceries delivered in 15 minutes
  • Jokr - Groceries in the moment
  • DoorDash - Launches ultrafast delivery service
  • Deliveroo - Partners Waitrose for rapid grocery deliveries

Notes
  • The startups are counting speed of delivery as the incentive and stickiness for purchasers to choose delivery instead of going out to buy from a shop. It moves retail from buy-store-use to just-in-time (hence 'no more fridge').
  • Some of the startups characterise themselves as delivery experts: for them, ultrafast grocery delivery is logistics first then retail.

Festive Greetings


For this festive season, we have a short sketch from clothing retailer Eagle Eye Outfitters and a performance of When a Child is Born by Roland Kaiser and Olga Peretyatko. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Web3 @ Kickstarter & PropTech

Kickstarter
Kickstarter is going Web3 using Celo. Given the high prices even simple NFT art seems to be fetching, it is natural more substantive projects would want to tap into this trend as well. Kickstarter has not provided details but one could almost see the Web3 mapping:
  • Projects → DAOs
  • Funding → NFT
  • Backers → NFT buyers
  • Governance → Smart contracts
  • Attester → Kickstarter
Notes
  • The Web3 version could potentially have better governance by having backers' funds released only on achieving set milestones as defined in the smart contract, and attested by Kickstarter.
  • A DAO (distributed autonomous organisation) is a 'company' that exists only on the internet and not tied to any official jurisdiction. The company shareholders could be the major backers who then have a say on how the DAO or the project is run.

PropTech
  • T&B Media, a TH-based media company, has teamed up with compatriot property developer MQDC, to launch a metaverse called Translucia (under development, no web presence yet).
  • As to how MQDC plans to utilise the metaverse, it says 'What can't happen in the real world will take place in this virtual world.'
  • Possible proptech use of the metaverse: a VR-only property listing platform, property as NFT, and a monopoly-like VR game based on real world property. <<<
  • Translucia will be hosting a 2-day online forum starting Wed (Dec 15th, 2021) titled Metaverse Unlimited. Speakers include from MIT, Stanford, Zaha Hadid, WEF, Hanson Robotics and Amazon.

Digital USD

Meeting with Legislators vid
  • Last Wednesday (Dec 8th, 2021), the US congress under the auspices of the House Financial Services Committee summoned a host of stablecoin and crypto CEOs for questioning (Tether: no show).
  • The congress members wanted to check if stablecoins are legit and if it requires legislative oversight (broad laws) in addition to its current regulatory oversight (by SEC, CFTC etc).
  • The proceedings were generally positive. The CEOs made the case their stablecoins are efficient, flexible, programmable and safe; USD-based stablecoins strengthen the USD rather than diminish it; and they asked for stablecoins to be fairly rather than harshly regulated.
  • The event marks a major step forward for USD stablecoins. Instead of a government CBDC, the US private sector came up with its own  alternative: a selection of digital USD including USDC (Circle) and USDP (Paxos).
  • Thus, rather than ponder a perfect CBDC, the stablecoins offer an exploratory path via practical usage.

The Stablecoin/Crypto Representatives
  • Jeremy Allaire, CEO, Circle USDC issuer
  • Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO, FTX Exchange for traders
  • Brian Brooks, CEO, Bitfury Crypto infra provider
  • Charles Cascarilla, CEO, Paxos USDP issuer
  • Denelle Dixon, CEO, Stellar USDC user
  • Alesia Haas, CFO, Coinbase USDC seller

Product Design


In the first video, British inventor and industrial designer James Dyson answers questions from Twitter covering topics from design to patents. In the second to fourth videos, The Brick Experiment Channel demonstrates how iterative experimentation and a bit of epiphany overcome obstacles.

Space Race

Space Ventures
Current and proposed space ventures include reusable rockets, private space stations, space logistics, satellite launches, satellite-as-a-service (sensing, space internet, orbital hosting etc), robotics, space tourism, lunar mining (rare earth metals, helium-3 for fusion) and low-gravity, vacuum manufacturing. Sample space startups:
  • iSpace - Lunar city with a population of 1K in 20 years
  • Orbital Insight - Commercial 'spy' satellite service
  • Axiom - World's first commercial space station
  • Momentus - Satellite repair, reposition, refuel and deorbit
  • Exodus - Servers hosted in space: test your satellite applications
  • Relativity - 3D printed reusable rockets for medium payloads
  • Bagaveev - 3D printed rocket engines for micro-satellites

Space Forum
Nikkei is hosting an online forum on The Future of Space tomorrow (Dec 8th, 2021, 9am JST). Topics include: