Google Glass Sets its Sights on Myanmar
Just as people in Myanmar were getting used to seeing smartphones in urban dwellers’ hands, another device – one far more rare and technologically-advanced – has come their way: Google Glass.
The voice-activated, wearable computer is not yet for sale in Myanmar. In fact, it remains a rare sight anywhere aside from tech-flooded U.S. cities like San Francisco and New York.
But American filmmaker Josh Kim brought the device to Myanmar as part of a documentary project in which he loaned Google Glass to people working in professions he found intriguing. The frameless, futuristic-looking glasses are fitted with a 720-pixel camera and allow their wearers to record what they see with the mere wink of an eye or a simple voice command.
Mr. Kim’s subjects, some of who expressed skepticism when he initially approached them, included a vendor who sells sugarcane juice and a pay phone operator. Unlike the U.S., where the glasses have caused an uproar, Mr. Kim said no one in Myanmar was particularly excited by Google’s hottest new tech toy.
“They just assumed it was something they did not have, but was pretty common across the rest of the world,” said Mr. Kim. When people interacted with those wearing the glasses, he added, they “thought this was a new fashion statement.”
Other than seeming a tad perplexed by a vendor with a funny-looking contraption on their face, most customers appeared cool to the gadget, he said.
Myanmar has an Internet penetration only higher than that of North Korea. Just 4.2% of its population of 60 million had access to the Web in 2012, the latest year data are available. Smartphones are just starting to reach the most developed cities of Yangon and Mandalay, which are light years behind neighboring metropolises like Bangkok. Even then, the SIM cards needed to operate the phones sell for around $250, an exorbitant price for the vast majority of people in a country that is the poorest in Southeast Asia.
Mr. Kim said his efforts to document what life is like through the eyes of ordinary Myanmar citizens is part of a broader project called Google Glass Diaries. He’s already posted half a dozen video clips on the webpage and says he hopes the project will eventually include 100 short, one-minute videos from around the globe. Mr. Kim says his goal is to show people slices of life from a viewpoint that is far different from their own.
“I look at it as giving voice to people who don’t have it,” said Mr. Kim. “They want to be able to tell their own stories, and this empowers the individuals to do that.”
Mr. Kim gained use of Google Glass through Glass Explorer, a pilot project initiated by the tech giant that allows select people to experiment with the device before its wider release later this year. The scheme comes with a US$1,500 entry free.
So far Mr. Kim has been to Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan since embarking on his glasses diary in January. He plans to take the device to the U.S. to work on a similar concept there. Rather than go to a country specifically for the project, he says he has been taking the glasses along on his travels. The 32-year-old videographer is also working on his first feature film based on a novel called “Sightseeing,” which is sort of what he’s doing.
In picking jobs to chronicle, Mr. Kim said he “felt a responsibility not to show a country in a stereotypical way” or one that might draw too many contrasts between the developed and developing world. In Thailand, for example, he lent the glasses to a “smile designer” – a more diplomatic term for cosmetic surgeon – to show that demand for beauty enhancing services are universal.
- An original version of the story included Korea among the countries where Mr. Kim has filmed. It has been corrected to Indonesia.
Singapore Consortium Wins $2.5-m Kyaukphyu SEZ Consultancy Deal
Singapore-based consortium Creative Professional Groups (CPG) has won a tender bid to get selected as the consultant firm for the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Myanmar’s southeastern Rakhine state.
CPG came out on top out of a total 17 companies that bid for the tender worth $2.5 million, while Netherland-based KPMG was selected as backup, joint secretary of the Kyaukphyu SEZ bid evaluation and awarding committee, U Aung Kyaw Than, told a news conference. A total of 31 companies expressed interest to take part in the bid in the first phase of the tender.
The estimated expenditure for Kyaukphyu SEZ is about $277 million, bid evaluation and awarding committee secretary U Myint Thein said, adding that the consultant will receive 5 percent of the estimated expenditure according to international practice.
CPG will provide consultancy services regarding land issues, deep sea port construction, finance and project programs and calling tenders to recruit the SEZ developer.
The CPG consortium comprises five companies including DTZ, G Maps and PM Link, U Aung Kyaw Than said.
“Kyaukphyu SEZ is not a state project but a private one. The deep sea port here will facilitate ocean liners and there are a lot of opportunities as this SEZ is close to big markets of India and China,” Deputy Minister for Finance U Maung Maung Thein said.
The SEZ is being developed in four stages, while the first one – a conceptual plan – have been finalised with input from economists, businesspeople and Kyaukphyu locals. Selecting the consultant was the second stage, while the third one involves inviting tenders for a developer. The fourth stage will see the construction of the 1,000-acre SEZ.
No Trace Found of Missing Malaysia Airliner
HANOI — As the search for a missing Malaysian airliner entered its third day, the head of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Authority called the disappearance of flight MH370 an "unprecedented mystery".
The plane disappeared from radar Saturday morning about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.
Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said Monday that the massive air and sea search has failed to find any trace of the plane or 239 people on board.
Interpol confirmed at least two passengers on the flight used stolen passports and authorities are checking to see whether others aboard used false identity documents.
Reuters quoted the chief Malaysian investigator as saying the two men who used stolen passports to board the jetliner were not of Asian appearance. Airport CCTV footage showed they completed all security procedures, he said.
Azharuddin said a hijacking attempt could not be ruled out.
A senior source involved in preliminary investigations in Malaysia said the failure to find any debris indicated the plane may have broken up mid-flight, which could disperse wreckage over a very wide area, Reuters reported.
The news agency also quoted a U.S. government source as saying that the United States has reviewed imagery taken by American spy satellites for evidence of a mid-air explosion, but saw none.
China urged Malaysia to step up the search for the missing plane and has sent security agents to help with the investigation into the misuse of passports. More than 150 Chinese nationals were on the flight. China has sent four search-and-rescue vessels and two warships to help in the mission.
In all, eight countries joined the search for the plane early Saturday, but so far no positive sightings of the jetliner have been made. Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation said the eight nations have a combined 40 ships and 34 aircraft involved in the hunt.
Grieving Indonesian mother Suharni displays a portrait of her son Sugianto Lo and wife Vinny Chynthya who are both passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, March 10, 2013.Grieving Indonesian mother Suharni displays a portrait of her son Sugianto Lo and wife Vinny Chynthya who are both passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, March 10, 2013.
Several sightings of suspicious objects were reported Saturday and Sunday, including what was believed to be a window or door of the plane. But Azharuddin said nothing has been verified.
"We have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft. We will be intensifying our efforts to locate the missing aircraft," he told reporters.
He said some samples of an oil slick spotted in the area are being analyzed to see if they could have come from the aircraft.
"The honorable prime minister used the word perplexing," said Azharuddin. "We are equally puzzled as well and to be confirmed what really happened on that particular day, on this ill-fated aircraft, we need hard evidence, we need concrete evidence, we need parts of the aircraft."
Vietnam dispatched two planes and seven ships to search for the plane, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Monday. The National Committee for Search and Rescue said another five planes and four ships are on standby for search activities.
“The wreckage is very unlikely to show up on radar, and it is also very unlikely to show in infra red, because it has the same temperature as the surface," said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of Flightglobal, a trade publication for the aviation sector. "So in terms of finding pieces of the aircraft, if indeed these pieces of aircraft are floating around in the sea, you are really relying on people's eyeballs. And also the wreckage if there is wreckage has had days to spread. And this could make it more challenging to locate."
The United States sent the USS Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, to the area on Sunday. Another vessel is on its way, according to Bleu Moore, spokesman from the 7th Fleet public affairs office.
"We’re also sending out the USNS Ericsson. It’s on its way there, it’s not in the same body of water but its on the way there," said Moore.
He said the biggest challenge is time: the more time passes, the less chance there is to save lives.
It could be a long wait before answers are found. When an Air France jetliner disappeared over the Atlantic on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, it took investigators nearly two years to find and retrieve the aircraft’s black box data recorders.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)
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China's Kunming Attacks Spark Online Rumors, Comment and Crackdown
Last weekend's deadly knife attacks in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming could spark further Internet controls, as police punish online "rumor-mongers" and warn those who try to start a debate on the causes behind the attacks.
But netizens are still hungry for alternative sources of information to official news reports on the slashing rampage at the Yunnan provincial capital which the authorities have blamed on separatists from the troubled Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, northwest of the country.
China's public security ministry said police have already punished 45 people for "provoking panic" and "disturbing public order" online.
They are accused of fabricating news and spreading rumors online in the wake of the attacks, which left 29 people dead and more than 140 injured, on social media platforms including QQ, WeChat and Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like service.
Veteran Hangzhou journalist Zan Aizong said there is a huge demand for alternate sources of news to complement the official line taken by the government.
"At the moment, only Xinhua news agency is putting out reports about the Kunming incident; the regional press aren't allowed to report on it freely," Zan said.
"There is relatively little information coming through official channcel, and it's not very detailed or confirmed," he said.
He said security camera footage from Kunming railway station existed, but hadn't been shared with the public.
Zan said there were still many questions around how the attack had been allowed to happen.
"Passengers needed to already have train tickets, and pass through a security checkpoint to get into the waiting room, so how did the attackers get past the checkpoint carrying knives?" he said.
"This was the responsibility of the police and station security."
Interest in online rumors
The information vacuum means that online rumors often get far more play in China than they would in a country with a free press, Zan said.
Among those punished by police was a Web user surnamed Wang from the eastern province of Zhejiang, who posted online a report that "attackers from Xinjiang" had killed more than 10 people near the West Lake in provincial capital Hangzhou and injured over 80 others, the ministry said on its official Sina Weibo account.
A similar report was posted online in the southwestern province of Sichuan, saying that three attackers "speaking the regional dialect of an ethnic minority group" slashed at passers-by in Chengdu with long knives.
A third post appeared on an online forum on Tuesday, warning that similar attacks were planned at 5.00 p.m. that day in a number of Chinese cities.
Under a Supreme People's Court ruling in September 2013, anyone "spreading rumors online" can be jailed for up to three years.
Chinese authorities have also issued a strong warning to popular "Big V" tweeters, warning them not to post or retweet online "rumors."
'Mistaking the black for the white'
Earlier this week, the Internet security group of the Beijing police department accused influential microbloggers, including soccer commentator-turned-writer Li Chengpeng and journalist Luo Changping, of "ignoring facts" and "mistaking the black for the white".
Public figures should "be responsible for their words" and threatened action "when laws are breached", it warned.
Last year, China arrested a number of liberal online commentators who lent their support to a movement to call on high-ranking government officials to reveal details of their assets, and those of their families.
Li Chengpeng had commented online of the attacks: "These people came from nowhere and attacked regular citizens. What was their motivation?"
A second post also questioned the motives behind the attacks.
"Do you know why they killed people? Figuring out the cause of the attack will be more useful than tackling them with force," the writer said.
The widely shared posts stirred up furious debate on China's tightly controlled Internet, with many accusing the posters of sympathizing with terrorists.
Meanwhile, officials have blamed the Internet for contributing to terrorist attacks in China.
On Thursday, Zhang Chunxian, ruling Chinese Communist Party secretary in Xinjiang--home to the mostly Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs--said that "about 90 percent" of terrorists use circumvention tools like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to get around China's system of blocks, filters and censorship known as the Great Firewall.
Zhang said that the attacks were not an indication of a faulty government's ethnic and religious policies, nor did they prove that the government's recent crackdown was inappropriate, the English-language Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Communist Party, reported.
"Such terrorist attacks grew after 9-11, Chechen terrorism, and the July 5 riot in Xinjiang," the paper quoted Zhang as saying.
China has said the Kunming attacks were an act of terrorism perpetrated by Uyghur separatists who had planned to leave the country on "jihad."
However, Uyghur sources have told RFA that the group had been "desperate" to leave China for Laos in order to escape oppressive government policies affecting their religious freedom and economic opportunities.
China says a total of 105 "terror attacks" and severe crimes took place during 2013, the People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper reported this week.
Reported by Lin Ping and Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
Inside under siege Ukrainian military base
7 hours ago
Tensions remain high in Crimea ahead of a proposed referendum on March 16, which could see the Ukrainian region become part of Russia.
Ukraine's interim prime minister has warned the Crimean parliament that "no-one in the civilised world" will recognise the vote, which has the support of Moscow.
The BBC's Ben Brown visited a Ukrainian naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea, that had been surrounded by what appeared to be Russian forces.
He spoke to Lt Cdr Olaxander Yesin, who said that he was still following orders from Kiev and that those on base would not surrender unless ordered to do so by their commanding officers.
Thein Sein Orders Commission, Court to Draft ‘Protection of Religion’ Law
RANGOON — Burma President Thein Sein has ordered a new commission and the country’s highest court to draft a proposed so-called “protection of race and religion” law, which could include a controversial measure to restrict interfaith marriage, according to lawmakers.
A petition signed by about 1.3 million people has called for the president to pass into law a version of a bill drafted by lawyers on behalf of leading monks in the nationalist 969 movement.
If enacted without amendment, the bill—which is thought to be targeted at Muslims in Burma—would require Buddhist women to get permission from their parents and local government officials before marrying a man from another faith. It also includes restrictions on converting to another religion, a limit to the number of children people can have, and measures to stop polygamy—which is already strictly illegal in Burma.
Late last month Thein Sein, without formally expressing support for the bill, forwarded it to Parliament for discussion, but Speaker Shwe Mann immediately sent it back, insisting that it was the executive branch’s responsibility to draft laws, then pass them to Parliament to debate.
On Friday, Shwe Mann announced in Parliament that he had received a new letter regarding the bill, according to Pe Than, a lawmaker from the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party.
“He [Thein Sein] informed Parliament that his government will form a commission to draft a [protection of race and religion] law,” he said.
However, in a move that baffled lawmakers, Thein Sein has reported decided that sections of the law covering certain issues would be drafted by the Union Supreme Court.
“His commission will take two issues: that one man is only able to have one wife and converting to another religion. The other two issues— interfaith marriage and restricting population—he will let the Union [Supreme] Court draft,” Pe Than said.
He said the move to have a branch of the judiciary draft a law was unprecedented, and that he did not understand why the president has chosen to do so.
Pe Than said that the law would address the fear among many Burmese Buddhists that the country’s dominant religion is under threat from Muslims. Tension between Buddhists and Muslims has run high since inter-communal violence broke out in Rakhine State in mid-2012, and later spread around the country.
“For me, I will not block this law as we all need to protect our race,” he said. “But one thing about protection of race is that while we need to protect our fence, we should not disturb other people’s fence.”
Mi Myint Than, lawmaker from the Mon Regional Democracy Party, confirmed the president’s decision.
“Usually, most draft laws come from the government administration. But on this issue, the president just sent it to the Parliament [originally],” she said, adding that it was more appropriate for a government ministry to draft the law.
“It’s a little strange. I can’t understand why,” she added.
Presidential spokesman Ye Htut last week commented on the earlier forwarding of the proposal to Parliament. On the sidelines of a meeting in Naypyidaw on March 1, Ye Htut told The Irrawaddy that the president’s wish in doing so was for Parliament to consider the issue, since so many people had expressed support for it, and not to make any political gain.
“According to our Constitution, no one from any political party can take political advantage from a religious issue,” he said.
Yadanar Khin's Family @ Ngwe Saung Beach, Myanmar
# ေငြေဆာင္ကမ္းေျခေရာက္ ရတနာခင္တို႔ မိသားစု #