Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jet engines that 'flew' away

Over the past few days, I attended several Xmas parties and quickly became an aviation expert - everybody talked about the missing F-5E jet engines.
The joke, of course, was that "Malaysia Boleh" (Malaysia can do it), the national slogan, was amended to "Malaysia Apa Pun Boleh" (literally, Malaysia anything also can do).
In two of the parties, there were some foreigners around and I was not sure whether to feel proud or ashamed of what had happened - two Northrop F5 jet engines went missing from an RMAF base.
I - or any other Malaysian - could either feel proud because Malaysians could pull off a heist that can be as good as any Hollywood script or feel ashamed because Malaysia is now in danger of becoming a banana republic. Previously such heists could only be done in some African or South American nation.
Looks like Malaysians have come of age and joined the ranks of Africans and South Americans.
The hot topic of discussion was two General Electric J85 engines with afterburners that were reported missing after an audit was carried out.

Has anyone seen this anywhere?

Everyone talked about how jet engines could somehow be dismantled and smuggled out of an airbase, which is supposed to be a high-security area, and taken to some port and shipped out. There were lots of conspiracy theories - high-ranking air force officers had to be involved. How else can two jet engines be smuggled out of an air base without someone with authority giving the green light?
The Customs Department had to be involved - how else can jet engines (which are military equipment) be cleared for export?
Someone suggested that the culprits could have declared them as turbines from Tenaga Nasional to be sent overseas for servicing. Everybody laughed.
The J85 engines were shipped to another country before being transshiped to Argentina.
According to wikipedia, the J85 engine weighs from 300 to 500 pounds (140 to 230kg) depending on model. Its length is 45.4 – 51.1 inches (depending on accessory equipment installed) and its diameter is 17.7 inches.
So the engine is not that big or heavy - four strong men and a forklift can do the job of removing it and lifting it onto a lorry. A nice crate about the size of one containing a six-foot tall Christmas tree would suffice to export it in.
Perhaps it was declared to the Customs as a hitech Christmas tree?
How the amazingly unbelievable theft was carried out is one issue.
The cops are now apparently re-investigating the case.
What is more vital is the political cost - the jet engines were stolen in 2007 when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was still the Defence Minister.
Obviously the Pakatan Rakyat politicians would exploit this issue to the maximum especially when there is talk now that the next general election could be held in 2011 which is just two years and a couple of days from now.
Najib would have to ensure there is no cover up otherwise the Opposition leaders would have a gala time whacking him and the people would crack even more jet engine jokes.
The fact that reports of the theft surfaced two years after the incident has only led to more mumblings of a cover up among the people.
Malaysians already do not trust the government very much - this jet engine scandal will make the situation even worse especially if the investigations are not transparent or are shoddy and if only a couple of corporals and lance-corporals are arrested.
Najib has to deal with this scandal with great care.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Clearer vision

Enough of politics - the people cannot stomach it anymore. Any more of it and the people may just end up in hospital with stomach flu - I'm sure you know what I mean.
Today, I shall blog about cataracts. It is often said that in this world there are only two things that are certain - taxes and death. However, for some people, cataracts are a certainty too. Unfortunately, I am one of those persons.
I have just had my right eye operated on. I remember my father undergoing a cataract removal operation some 20 to 30 years ago and back then it was a major event and he was hospitalised for a few days. He ended up wearing spectacles with extremely thick lenses.
These days a cataract operation is pretty straightforward and is considered an outpatient procedure. You go in the morning and you're discharged after lunch time.
I was the third in line for the op and after swallowing three Panadols and two Valiums, I was wheeled to the operation room. Beside me was an old Malay lady who told me she already had one eye operated on and had waited for the Hari Raya Haji festival to be over before getting the other eye done.
I asked her how the 'new' eye was and she replied: "Terang, macam muda lagi." (Clear, just like when I was young.) Then she said with a chuckle, "Semua sudah palsu, gigi pun palsu." (Everything is false, even my teeth are false.) Then she was wheeled into the operation theatre itself.
Minutes later it was my turn. I had opted for local anaesthetic to be administered and the injection into the skin below the eye was not as painful as I thought it would be.
I remember my face was covered with some plastic sheet and only my right eye was exposed. I could hear the doctor talking with the operation assistants and a radio was tuned to a local station. I could feel the doctor making an incision and putting presumably some tube into my eye and then inserting something into it. I didn't feel much pain and presumably I dozed off (the Valium worked too well) and presumably I snored because the doctor remarked later that I must have fallen asleep.
Perhaps 45 minutes later, I was wheeled out. After eating two bowls of porridge and waiting for the paperwork to be done, I was discharged with a cotton patch on my right eye and a plastic protective cup over it.
The next day, the bandage was removed and I could see pretty clearly with my right eye. I had opted for the multi-focal implant and I could read the SMSes on my phone, the text on the computer screen and signboards in the distance.
Technology is wonderful. Science has progressed so much since my father's time. But these advancements have been made in the West, especially in the United States, the UK and Western Europe. In these countries, English is the lingua franca of science and technology - they have advanced tremendously and have invented cutting-edge technolgies.
Meanwhile, in Malaysia we are still debating whether to teach Science and Maths in Malay or English. Frankly the advanced nations don't care as long as Malaysians remain a market for their advanced products.
Coming back to technological advancements, the multi-focal implants work well, but - there's always a but - there are limitations.
I can see flare when I look at bright lights like street lamps and car headlights, I can see a yellowish colour cast - white is not exactly white as I have always known it - and I cannot see shadow details. In dim light, a lot of details are lost. It is quite easy for me to list out all these shortcomings because my left eye is perfectly natural (but with a bit of cataract affecting it and it will be operated on a few days from now), so I just have to look at something and cover one eye alternately to note the differences.
It looks like more advancements need to be made - hopefully by a Malaysian scientist who has gone beyond this insular and regressive Malay-English issue.
But it goes to show that even the best that Man can invent falls short of the glory of God. 
Even with Computer-Aided Designs and the fastest chips and all the knowledge that has been amassed by human civilisations, Man can never exceed or even replicate divine creation.