Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Launch Day For The Solianos' Pusaka - A Biased Review

Today is important to The Solianos and Leslie Loh, we are all so excited to want all Malaysians to listen to the album. Its not about making money or anything superficial, its because we think we have more than just an album. Its an immediate must-have, a classic ... I can say that confidently.

I am not in the music industry even though I have a role as Executive Producer - its a long story but I am so glad to be involved in some minor way for the creation of the album. The launch has been greeted by willing participants once we told them what we were doing. The launch will be emceed by Mahadzhir Lokman. The guest list is nothing short of stunning. We are expecting a strong crowd of close to 300 people, some of whom include Pak Lah (who will officially launch the album) and his wife Jeanne, Ahmad Merican (the composer of Tanah Pusaka), Yong Ming San (The Star's chairman) and many CEOs from various big corporations and many many friends and relatives of the soliano.

My very biased review: quality of recording, excellent audiophile quality, the sound is so clear, the bass, the voices, you just want to play it louder and louder. Mahadzhir Lokaman's intros to four of the songs were apt and tells a wonderful background to the significance of it all.

Mulanya Di Sini - Breathing beautiful harmonies into the classic and chosen as well to signify the start of their new journey as recording artistes. The horns kept pumping and charging the song along with gusto, bringing a Latin feel to the number.
Tudung Periuk - Who dares to record Tudung Periuk? Every Malaysian knows how to hum the song. Hearing The Solianos play this live was what started this all off. You never knew that this song could sound soooo good. 7 parts harmonies people, I think this song took the longest to record, makes your hair stand as they say.
Kasih Sayang - A wonderful jazzy composition by the late Alfonso Soliano. Beautifully sung by isabella and Irene.
Tanah Pusaka - Those of us in their 30s-50s would remember this "national patriotic song" but you won't believe the jazzed up version. Its full of joy, even a bit of doo-wap and bebop. Its melodic and the tempo hooks you up instantly.
Gadis Idamanku - Most Malaysians loved this song, possibly the most popular song composed by Alfonso. Loved this version, delivered with the assuredness of knowing thats how Alfonso would have wanted it sung and harmonised. Highlight number one. Many would just buy the album for this one song.
Getaran Jiwa - To be honest I twitched when they wanted to do this song, as many have done this to death. But I was wrong, this was punched full with wafting melodic harmonies left right and center, and Tricia's solo was like warm honey melting on butter.
Di Bawah Sinar Bulan Purnama - This will take people off guard. The more you listen to it, the more hooked you get. Its country blues, haunting, melodic and sooo intoxicating.
Widuri - Again, another song that I thought they should not do. Well, Ador arranged it in an almost big band attacking the melody lines, which brought new fervour to this tune. Plenty of room for their harmonies to shine here. Pretty good.
Airmata Berderai - Surprisingly, this IS MY FAVOURITE TRACK. What a heart tilting composition by Alfonso. Just the piano carressing the song and Isabella singing holding back tears all the while. I dare anyone not to have tears in their eyes when they listen to this timeless melody, heart wrenching lyrics, made for anyone who have lost someone dear to their lives. Reflective, personal and oh so mesmerising.

There, how more biased a review can you get. If you wish to get an early copy of the CD come today between 6pm-7pm, Bentley Studios, The Curve or else wait till April 11th when they hit the stores. Or you can come to the Glorious Years concert on April 9th to get The Solianos CD which I am sure will be sold then as well.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Relevance Of Slumdog Millionaire To Asia

Came across the DVD of Slumdog, rewatched it and still thought this was a brilliant movie. However I still remembered how many Asians were deriding the movie as exploitation or showing poverty porn. First and foremost, its a bloody good movie, pass me the papadams. Secondly people, its a movie. Thirdly, its fiction, although it was based on 'real events' and 'real people'.

Why is it that when a movie portrays disturbing images on the screen, there will be citizens and politicians yapping that its a dishonour, a disgrace, a slap in the face to national pride and/or to national dignity. People, its a MOVIE. The only kind of films that you may get offended if they portray your country or its people wrong is IF its a DOCUMENTARY - repeat after me, D-o-c-u-m-e-n-t-a-r-y, now go look it up in the dictionary. If its a documentary, its should be like a snapshot of history, go and refute it if it never happened or did not paint a full picture.

If its not a documentary, then its a movie, even if its based on real events, its still a movie. You may not agree with the story being told, but you cannot stop others from enjoying them. Asian nations have this huge bloody chip on their collective shoulders - every time a movie comes out that ruffled their senses, be it a swipe on some shoddy past history or capturing pockets of disenfranchised people/community or highlighting corruption and other bad behaviour of certain people, etc... Asians will protest that it paints its people, its country and/or its history in the wrong shade.

I mean c'mon... Zhang Zhiyi in Memoirs of A Geisha also got complaints??!! I agree when Japanese government totally whitewashed the Nanking Incident from their history books, that you should be angry, you should never alter history. Do you think any film makers will even dare do a picture about King Bhumibol of Thailand? If you do, you better never step foot in Thailand. If you asked me, I would like to make a movie about how Thailand basically negotiated with the Japanese, and sold their neighbours (Malaysia and Singapore) to the abattoirs when they allowed Japanese troops to cut through Thailand and into Malaysia and Singapore in exchange for the country not to be attacked by the Japanese - pragmatic yes, reprehensible, a bigger yes.

In the West, the most amount of protests will come after every religious movie. Doesn't matter if its Jesus or Moses, there will be people disagreeing. Disagree ok, go and rant and rave at home or to your friends, why take to the streets? By doing the latter you are trying to impose your your beliefs on others, the same way if you don't agree with gays and lesbians lifestyles, there is no need to go to the streets, if you don't agree to some being Buddhists, does it mean you go to the streets as well? You can argue your case but remember there is a line in presenting your case and stuffing things down other people's throat.

If Slumdog Millionaire was TOTALLY FICTITIOUS, i.e. these slums never did existed, I doubt very much it would have been such a big hit. Its the knowledge that these things are present even till today, its that gritty bit of reality that not many want to face up to, its the desperate lives of many that the rest wants to get out of their minds, its the hordes of begging children crowding you when you go to work every day - you want to desensitise yourself from the realities in order to carry on your daily lives. You cannot seriously be empathetic every day, every hour, every minute with the down-trodden, the poor, the sick, the broken... when they are around you all the time - its an open wound that no one wants to see and be commented on, look at the pus!

The detractors called Slumdog "poverty porn", c'mon... so if its Rambo then its "violence porn", if its a chick flick would it then be "romance porn"? Global audiences might be accustomed to thinking about India in terms of a country divided by extravagant wealth and dismal poverty, but Indians themselves still seem uncomfortable with that reflection. That seems to be the crux of the matter, Asians generally are not yet comfortable to see their surrounding, their people or history being portrayed in a not too flattering manner - misplaced pride or lack of self identity or lack of confidence in national identity or ...


If there were movies about the going-ons in Petaling Street or Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman after midnight, we should be OK with it, if there is a movie about police corruption or brutality in Malaysia, we should be OK with it ... but I rather want it to be called a documentary though!

Good movies will cause people to be entertained, great movies will cause people to reflect and remember. Slumdog should be the catalyst where the people responsible may finally do something to help eradicate or at least reduce the abysmal poverty in India. These slums cannot be allowed to exist in this day and age, its inhumane, our pets have better lifestyle. The slums are not just in India, its everywhere, in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and even Malaysia. We should not close an eye to injustice, we need to uphold human dignity.

The scenes where children are maimed or blinded to be better beggars was a stark reminder to all Asians, because we all know its true and not just in India. There have been too many cases of kids being kidnapped by gangs, smuggled to another country and have their limbs amputated to be beggars - you know and I know its out there but to be forced to come to terms with it is not something we want to confront. The poverty in the movie is tainted with the infernal caste system and religious bigotry - both being huge issues in many countries. Be open, start to deal with it, open up people's minds about it - education and information.

Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan said: “if SM projects India as a third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky underbelly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations.” Yes Ami baby, we all know that, its not just India, don't go nationalistic on people.

There is the chasm between a country’s self-perception and projection and any reasonable measure of its achievements - in particular China and India, both countries are proud and yet coming to terms with globalisation and being an economic force at the same time. Trying to find their feet amidst the global stage - be open, take a backseat to reflect and don't take things personally.

Many Bollywood filmakers derided Slumdog as pandering to Western curiosity - hey, to film the slums probably cost Danny Boyle very little, its right there, no artificial stage or backdrop, its there ... the bloody song and dance (which I loved) at the end of the movie probably cost a lot more than the all the filming done in the slums! Fact - around half of Mumbai's population live in slums and authorities in the state of Maharashtra have long been under pressure to improve conditions there.

The movie has a lot of relevance to Asia as a whole because this continent has more than its fair share of social injustice, plenty of disenfranchised groups, desperate poverty .... Slumdog is not just a movie about India.


That's the serious bit, back to the movie, its a bloody great movie. It has the underdog factor, gritty mini-stories within the movie. A truly great movie will make you feel empathetic with the main characters - Danny Boyle did a marvelous job, you feel for the characters, you know what they were thinking, what their priorities were, why they kept on going.

Yes its a bit about love but more than that, its about the triumph of the human spirit against adversity. In life, we all will face our fair share of adversity, some more than others, that's a given and a definite. How each of us respond to them, is still up in the air. As bad as things are in this world, God will give you the armory and grace to face them: "My grace is sufficient.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

US Home Prices To Fall Still

Gary Shilling is to be respected, he has a great read on housing market in the US and has been correct for more than 20 years. If its true, basically interest rates will be kept very low for an extended period, which is good for all stocks.


Last October, when everyone was jubilant about the housing "recovery," Gary Shilling of A. Gary Shilling & Co., predicted that house prices would fall another 20%.

In the five months since, house prices have resumed their decline.

In his most recent research note, Gary sticks by his "20%" decline prediction. We've included a summary and updated charts from his argument below.

Housing: Great Expectations vs. Reality

Last spring, many believed that not only was the housing collapse over but that a robust rebound was underway. Investors were crowding into foreclosed house sales and bidding up prices in California, often the bellwether state for new trends.

The tax credit of up to $8,000 for new homebuyers that expired in April spurred buyers and promised to kick-start housing activity nationwide. TheHomeAffordable Modification Program was trumpeted by the Administration to help 3 million to 4 million homeowners with underwater mortgages by paying lenders to reduce monthly payments to manageable size and then paying homeowners to continue to make those payments.

But then a funny—or not so funny—thing happened on the way to housing recovery...

Yes, with mortgage rates so low, houses look "cheap."

With low mortgage rates and collapsed house prices, the National Association of Realtors’ Housing Affordability Index has leaped to all-time highs.

But when you don't have a job, old measures of "affordability" no longer apply...

It’s also become clear that the NAR’s Housing Affordability Index in the earlier post-World War II years is not relevant to today’s conditions. Back then, unemployment rates were usually much lower than now and the current threats of layoffs, wage and benefit cuts and being forced into part-time jobs were almost nonexistent. Who ventures into homeownership if he doesn’t know the size of his next paycheck or even if he’ll have one?

Also, with almost a quarter of all homeowners with mortgages under water with their mortgage principals exceeding the value of their houses, many can’t sell their existing abodes even if they wanted to buy other houses.


Unemployment is declining, but job growth has hardly been robust

Mortgages delinquent 30 days, many of which will probably end in foreclosure, have risen lately. They peaked in the first quarter of 2009 at 3.77%, then fell to 3.31% at the end of 2009, but have since risen to 3.51%, according to Tom Lawler.

He goes on to observe that 30-day delinquencies are linked to initial claims for unemployment insurance, which fell last year but subsequently leveled off and are now rising. Also, the delinquencies are rising as weak borrowers with modified loans again miss payments. Fitch Rating believes that 65% to 75% of mortgages modified under HAMP will redefault within 12 months.

And the number of people unemployed per job opening is coming down, but it's still very high

And those who are unemployed have been unemployed for a very long time

True, there are some hopeful signs. The percent of mortgages past due has begun to fall...

And, last spring, thanks to the tax credit, sales of existing homes skyrocketed. Alas, the effect was temporary.

The revival of home sales early [last] year proved to have less follow- through after the tax credit expired in April than did the previous expiration last November.

Existing home sales subsequently fell to a new low, so the tax credits had only “borrowed” sales from future months with no lasting impact.

And since last year's happy uptick, prices have begun to fall again...

Most importantly, the number of houses for sale is still abnormally high... and house prices, like everything else, are a function of supply and demand.

As we’ve stated repeatedly in many, many past Insights, excess inventories are the mortal enemy ofhouse prices. And those excess inventories are huge.

Notice that, over time, new and existing inventories listed for sale have averaged about 2.5 million. So, we reason, that’s the normal working inventory level and anything over and above 2.5 million is excess.

At the peak of 5 million reached in October 2007, that excess was 2.5 million. It subsequently fell but with the recent jump, the total is 4.0 million, implying excess inventories of 1.5 million.


That’s a lot considering the average annual build of 1.5 million houses. So the inventories over and above normal working levels equals one year's average demand. But wait! There’s more!

As noted earlier, as foreclosures pick up with the ending of the mortgage modification-related moratorium on lender takeovers, “shadow” inventory will become visible as many of those bereaved of their abodes join friends and family.

Furthermore, if we take the Total Housing Inventory numbers published by the Census Bureau at face value—and Tom Lawler, a very careful housing analyst concludes that it takes more than the faith of a mustard seed to do so—there are a lot ofhousing units that are likely to be listed for sale as owners give up trying to wait out the housing bust.

Recently, my wife told me of a friend who finally listed her house for sale right after Labor Day and got nary a nibble in the following three weeks. Then she was further discouraged when two other similar houses in her neighborhood were listed.

And then there's the "shadow" inventory--including the still-massive number of foreclosures.

The Administration’s HAMP initiative, introduced in April 2009, has been a huge disappointment...

But while mortgage modifications were attempted, lenders and servicers were basically forced by the government to suspend foreclosures. Now, as that program unwinds, foreclosures will again jump. Ironically, foreclosure rates have moderated recently because lenders tightened their standards in mid-2008 when housing and mortgages were in free fall. In 2009, two-thirds of all FHA- guaranteed new loans were to borrowers with credit scores over 660, up from 45% in 2008.

Nevertheless, lenders have been loosening in recent months. In January, Fannie initiated a program that allows first-time homebuyers to put down $1,000 or 1% of the purchase price, whichever is greater. In the first half of this year, credit card companies sent out 84.8 million offers to American subprime borrowers, up from 43.7 million a year earlier. In the second quarter of this year, 8% of new car oans were to borrowers with the lowest rank of credit scores, up from 6.2% in the fourth quarter of 2009.

And bank-owned houses (more future inventory)

Already, Real Estate Owned by lenders due to foreclosures—perhaps the most hated term among bankers—is climbing. Estimatesare that a major share of the 7 million houses that have delinquent mortgages or are in some stage of foreclosure, as well as those yet to come, will be dumped on the market, adding to the already huge excessive inventory glut. Some 4.5 million loans are now in foreclosure or at least 90 days delinquent.

And the folks who aren't selling because prices are still weak

Between the first quarter of 2006, the peak of house sales, and the second quarter of this year, the number ofhousing units, net of teardowns, conversions to non-housing uses and other removals, rose 5.7 million.

Of that total, 1.1 million were added to the pool of vacant units listed for rent or sale, 2.8 million were occupied by new households and so on down the list. Of the 1.3 million increase in those Held Offthe Market, the 1.1 million rise in the “Other” category is the one of interest. This component has leaped from the earlier norm of about 2.6 million to 3.7 million in the second quarter.

This rapid rise, coinciding with the collapse in housing, suggests strongly that many of these houses are indeed shadow inventory, units withheld in hopes ofhigher prices but highly likely to emerge from the woodwork sooner or later.

If we assume that half the 1.1 million increase since the housing peak in the first quarter o f2006 are shadow inventory, the total excess jumps from 1.5 million to 2 million at present, and is likely to rise further.

So, the question is, how long will it take us to absorb all that excess inventory? Some analysts think 1-2 years. Gary Shilling thinks 4-5 years. Why? First because household formation is still lower than it was during the boom

Many believe that household formation and, therefore, demand for either owned or rented housing units is closely linked to population growth. A Beazer Homes official said recently that demographics would normally produce household growth of around 1.5 million a year.

But note that those trendless series are extremely volatile, ranging from a peak of almost 2.3 million at annual rates in the current cycle to less than 500,000 recently. Household formation is similarly volatile, not surprising since a household is defined as one or more people living in a separate dwelling unit and not in jail, college, an institution or an army barracks. So household formation is affected by the lust for house appreciation, income growth, employment prospects, family size, mortgage availability and all the other factors that determine the desirability of owning or renting.


The homeownership rate (percent of households that are homeowners) continues to decline, probably headling back to its long-term average.

Back in the salad days of 10% annual price appreciation, a homeowner and/or investor who put down 5% enjoyed a wonderful 200% return on his investment per year, neglecting taxes, interest and maintenance. But that hapless homeowner who bought at the peak lost all of his downpayment six times over as prices fell 30%.

No wonder that the homeowner rate, which spurted from its 64% norm to 69%, is now back to 66.9% in the second quarter and probably on its way back to 64%.

More people are choosing to live with their parents. As they lose their jobs and houses, many Americans are "doubling up"--moving in with friends and relatives. This further reduces demand for housing.

Of course, homeowners thrown out of their abodes by foreclosures can continue to be separate households
by renting houses and apartments, but many of those and other discouraged folks are shrinking
households—and adding to vacant housing units—by doubling up with family and friends.

The Census Bureau reports that in the last two years, multi-family households jumped 11.6% while total households rose a mere 0.6%. Those aged 25-34 living with parents—many of them “boomerang kids” who have returned home—increased by 8.4% to 5.5 million. Not surprising, 43% of those were below the poverty line of $11,161 for an individual.

And now everyone knows that house prices CAN actually fall, so they're no longer rushing to get in on the the most amazing investment ever.

Most of all, the NAR’s Housing Affordability Index is largely irrelevant today because in contrast with the earlier post-World War II years, prospective buyers know that house prices can, and do, fall.

Who wants to buy an expensive asset with a big mortgage that may be worth much less shortly? And the financial leverage created by a mortgage magnifies the risk tremendously. Someone who buys a house with 5% down sees their equity wiped out if the price falls only 5%. So the fall in house prices and mortgage rates, which have driven up the NAR’s measure of affordability, have been offset by stronger forces.

So, too, will any future increases in the affordability index in all likelihood. The Fed may embark on further purchases of mortgage securities, which could reduce mortgage rates further, but the central bank will probably only act in response to additional economic weakness that will discourage homebuyers. The further declines in house prices we foresee will make them cheaper, but also convinces prospective owners that they are even worse investments.

The rebound in house prices is also suspect and may have peaked out. Furthermore, both the previous decline and subsequent reversal probably overstate reality. Earlier, the many sales of foreclosed houses or by distressed homeowners tended to be lower-priced houses and, therefore, depressed average prices. The recent swoon in Los Angeles house prices compared with the early 1990s drop suggests this is true. Conversely, the recent rebound may be overstating reality since, as our good friend and great housing analyst Tom Lawler has noted, the homebuyer tax credit may have induced some to pay up to beat the deadline and to favor higher priced “traditional” house sales over “distressed” homes.

Tom also points out that the Case- Shiller price index for July, which showed increases in 13 of the 20 metro areas (not seasonally adjusted), was based on transactions from April to June and, therefore, included tax credit- related settlements in May and June. Also, seasonally-adjusted data reveals declines in 16 of 20 metro areas and a small 0.1% fall from June to July. Another Home Value Index compiled by Zillow reports that prices nationwide fell in July from June, the 49th consecutive monthly fall. That puts them down 24% from the May-June 2006 peak, similar to the 28% drop in the Case-Shiller index.

On a positive note, housing starts are still at a startlingly low level, which means less new inventory to absorb.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Gary Shilling thinks house prices probably have another 20% to fall.

This huge and growing surplus inventory of houses will probably depress prices considerably from here, perhaps another 20% over the next several years. That would bring the total decline from the first quarter 2006 peak to 42%.

This may sound like a lot, but it would return single-family house prices, corrected for general inflation and also for the tendency of houses to increase in size over time, back to the flat trend that has held since 1890.

We are strong believers in reversions to the mean, especially when it has held for over a century and through so many huge changes in the economy in those years—two world wars and the 1930s Depression, the leap in government regulation and involvement in the economy, the economic transformation from an agricultural base to manufacturing and then to services, the post- World War II population shift from cities to suburbs, the western and southern transfer of population and economic strength, the movement from renting to homeownership and the accompanying spreading of mortgage financing, etc.

Furthermore, our forecast of another 20% fall in house prices may be conservative. Prices may well end up back on their long- term trendline, but fall below in the meanwhile. Just as they way overshot the trend on the way up, they may do so on the way down, as is often the case in cycles. Furthermore, another big house price decline will spike delinquencies and foreclosures leading to more REO sales by lenders,whichwillfurtherdepress prices. Our analysis indicates that a further 20% drop in prices will push the number of homeowners who are under water from 23% to 40%, resulting in more strategic defaults, more REO, etc.

Even prices in New York City have resumed their fall!

If house prices DO fall another 20%, a lot more homeowner equity will be wiped out. And that's not good news for banks. Or the economy. Or, for that matter, future house prices.

At that point, the remaining home equity of those with mortgages would be wiped out on average. That, in turn, would impair already-depressed consumer confidence and their willingness and ability to spend, to say nothing of residential construction.

In California, epicenter ofthe housing boom-bust, construction jobs dropped 43% from June 2006 to June of this year, compared to a 28% decline nationwide, and the unemployment rate in the Golden State jumped to 12.3% in June, far above the 9.5% rate nationally.

The essay was excerpted from the latest monthly research of Gary Shilling of A. Gary Shilling & Co.

Album Review By Hi-Fi Unlimited


March 26, 2011

A Tour-De-Force Pusaka

We (a couple of us with a few hifi dealers) just came back from a listening session at ML's house on his latest audiophile project: The Solianos "Pusaka"- remembering Alfonso Soliano.

One word sums up our feelings: Sensational.

Firstly, we would like to let you know that this recording is done at KL's most expensive studio in TTDI, The Ark Studios. It is the same studio used by Jacky Cheung and George Lam in their respective audiophile albums recently. You could detect the same tonal color and airiness, that is the hallmark of this famous studio, except that Pusaka's recording is way better than either Jacky's or George's. We seriously think that is because of ML's expertise here and no other reasons.

Secondly, this is most likely the first Malay audiophile album in the world and the first of its genre in Malaysia that is being mastered by Doug Sax, ML's favourite mastering guru from The Mastering Lab. Doug Sax also mastered JZ8, another best-selling album from Pop Pop Music.

What's can we say but to congratulate ML once again for the fantastic sound! The same Doug Sax's signature sound is evident in Pusaka too. It is very thick in the mids, very airy and analogue sounding, very musical and the best thing is, it yearns to be played loud and louder! The louder you play, the more sensational the sound gets, without a trace of breaking up or edginess or harshness. We notice the same trend in JZ8 recording too.

Doug sax is way better than Bernie Grundman in the areas of density (Cantonese is "Mutt Dou"), midrange seductiveness and sheer musicality. His mastering may not have the dynamism of Bernie but its winning edge is the musicality, which makes Pusaka such a gem to behold.

Musically, this is the most ambitious and most outrageous from ML's production to-date. It is not just jazz per se, it is Latin, Samba, Cuban, Bossa Nova, Swing... a testament to Arranger/Music Director and maestro Salvador Guerzo's superior musicianship. Salvador is the son-in-law of Alfonso Soliano, the daddy of the Soliano family and Jazz Giant to whom this album is dedicated to.

Salvador's arrangement is fascinating and a work of pure genius. He is probably the best arranger in this genre in Malaysia. He incorporates plenty of dramas and breath-taking attacks in his arrangement, making every song sounds like a roller-coaster of high-drama and excitement. Really, we haven't heard Freedom's "Mulanya Disini" (a pop hit in the 80s by Freedom led by the late Dato Seha) or Bob Tutupoly's "Widuri" (An Indonesian classic ballad ) being played like this! The Solianos totally turn the table upside down with Ador's amazing arrangement, leaving everyone of us breathless and totally in awe.

We haven't even mentioned the wonderful multi-part harmonies of the Solianos, which is another winning aspect of this album. Imagine you can pin-point 7 voices singing in different notes in the soundstage, how could you beat that? The 3 females vocalists, Isabella, Irene and Tricia are wonderfully soulful and yet having their own distinctive tonal signature. We love their voices to bits.

We wouldn't go on and spoil your pleasure in discovering this album. Suffice to say, this is an instant classic the way it should be.

Pop Pop Music has hit the bulls-eye again for the 2nd time, we are damn sure. This wave is gonna be bigger than 2V1G.

In fact, one of the dealers said this to ML at the end of the listening session: "The album's repertoire, arrangements and musical presentation are extraordinary impressive!".

It is about time we have a timeless audiophile classic by a Malaysian music label.

How To Buy The Solianos Album Early!

do you want to own a piece of history?
do you want to own the first vocal harmony album by a musical family who sings and plays the instruments?
do you want to own the first malay jazz audiophile album in the world?
do you want to own possibly the best-sounding malaysian album?
presenting to you "pusaka" from the most talented musical family in malaysia!

look at the glorious artwork of pusaka! this is our most elaborate and sophisticated inlay design to date, thanks to the immense talent of our graphic designer, manjii hwang!

manjii has spent weeks to do his research on how to present solianos in their most glorious state. his choice of colours is spot-on and photography from pacino wong (you studio) perfectly complements the artwork. so far, the feedback on the inlay design has been great.

there are two version of pusaka:

1) premium edition: wooden box, with a inlay booklet, velvet lining inside. limited to 1,000 copies only. retailing at RM69.90. this is a fully imported version.

2) normal edition: normal plastic jewel case, with just a cover sheet (no inlay). this is the economy edition. retailing at RM39.90. the cd is imported but packaging is done locally.

for those who want to buy at cd stores, stocks are estimated to hit the stores starting 11th of april, 2011!

important: please direct all email inquiries to poppopmusic@yahoo.com.

p/s failing all that, if you want to grab the CD before they reach the stores, go to Bentley Studios @ Mutiara Damansara, Tuesday March 29th (album launch) between 6pm-7pm.

Friday, March 25, 2011

April 9th - Get Your Tickets Early!!!

While I am sooo excited with the upcoming release of The Solianos' Pusaka album, which I think will take the whole country like a storm (in a good way), I am also very keen to attend the upcoming concert featuring JZ8 (Lydia), Zyan and WVC Trio. It should be a wonderful night of classic Chinese oldies and Chinese bossanova music.

Book early people!!!

testing out vivitek projector in bentley music auditorium

The evening will be centered on classic Chinese oldies and the artistes will only do very few songs from their albums. The repertoire will include those songs below (plus a few from their own albums):

夜來香  (Ye Lai Xiang : Fragrant Flower) Original Singer: Unknown

秋夜 【原唱:白光】 (Qiu Ye : Autumnal Night) Original Singer: Bai Guang

縈舊夢 【原唱:白光】 (Hun Ying Jiu Meng: Recurring Old Dreams) Original Singer: Bai Guang

【原唱:周璇】 (Yong Yuan De Wei Xiao: Forever Smile) Original Singer: Zhou Xuan

【原唱:周璇】 (Hua Yang Nian Hua: My Glorious Years) Original Singer: Zhou Xuan

忘不了的你 (Wang Bu Liao De Ni: Unforgettable You) Original Singer: Unknown

【原唱:白光】 (Ru Guo Mei You Ni: If I Don't Have You) Original Singer: Bai Guang

【原唱:白光】 (Tao Li Zheng Chun: Fighting For Attention) Original Singer: Bai Guang

【原唱:葉倩文】 (Wan Feng: Evening Breeze) Original Singer: Sally Yeh

【原唱:蔡琴】 (Qia Shi Ni De Wen Rou: Like Your Tenderness) Original Singer: Cai Qin

不了情 【原唱:萬芳】 (Bu Liao Qing + Xin Bu Liao Qing: Endless Love (new and old) Original singer: Unknown/Wan Fang

【原唱:劉家昌】 (Qiu Shi Pian Pian: Autumnal Poetry) Original Singer: Liu Jia Chang

【原唱:鄧麗君】 (Wo Zhi Zai Hu Ni : I Only Care For You) Original Singer: Teresa Teng

【原唱:尤雅】 (Wang Shi Zhi Neng Hui Wei: The Past Can Only Be Reminisced) Original Singer: Yu Ya

red denote RM105 seats. blue denotes RM85 seats

Ticketing Info:

Concert Date: 9th April 2011 (Saturday)

Venue: Bentley Auditorium, Mutiara Damansara

Price: RM105 & RM85 (See Seating Plan. Seat allocation will be done at auditorium entrace, first come first serve basis.)

Ticketing Outlets: CDRAMA (Popular Bookstore) Ikano Power Centre (03-77258188/5832)

CDRAMA, Sunway Pyramid (03-56377280/7286)

CDRAMA, Cheras Leisure Mall (03-91322435/437)

Loud+Clear, Solaris Dutamas (03-62111683)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Solianos' Album Launch

Readers will know that I am quite involved with The Solianos' album. Its been featured in Daily Chilli. My role was as Executive Producer of the album, remember to get your copy.


The Solianos launch new album

By Rizal Johan

The Solianos have a new album on the horizon called Pusaka (translated as Legacy) and it will be officially launched this Tuesday (March 29), 6pm at Bentley Music, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

The vocal harmony group, consisting of Irene Soliano, Isabella Soliano, Velantino Soliano, Rizal Soliano, Coni Soliano, Tristano Soliano, Tricia D'Cruz and Salvador Guerzo, have been a mainstay live act for almost 30 years known for their seven-part harmonies and a repertoire which includes jazz and popular standards.

The album is produced by local audiophile label, Pop Pop Music, and is dedicated to the memory of their late father and local jazz giant, Alfonso Soliano.

As such, the album features covers of Alfonso's original works and such Malay classics as Widuri, Mulanya Disini and Tanah Pusaka.

Pusaka took almost a year-and-a-half to record and according to producer Leslie Loh, it was a time consuming effort because of the vocal harmonies.

"Recording the seven-part vocal harmonies is quite crazy. That took quite a while to sort out," said Loh, who recorded the entire album at The Ark Studios, Kuala Lumpur.

Despite the long recording period, Loh is very happy with the results.

"I'm very satisfied with how the album has turned out. I don't think Malaysia has seen a local recording like this what with the harmonies involved and the top class music arrangement by Salvador Guerzo. This is not just a jazz album per se because they've incorporated different styles of music as well," said Loh.

The album is scheduled to be released in local music shops on April 10 next month and it comes in two versions: premium and normal.

The premium edition wooden box set includes an inlay booklet and velvet lining priced at RM69.90 limited to a thousand copies.

And the normal edition plastic jewel case is priced at RM39.90

For those of you who can't wait to hear the new recordings, just head on over to Bentley Music, Mutiara Damansara on March 29, 6pm.

Published March 22 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Country Song You Should Listen To

Seriously, I am not a big fan of country songs. Somehow the really good ones can tell a good long story in a song. About 10 years ago there was this guy who took the country charts by storm called Collins Raye. Great country voice, and he had this big hit "Love, Me", which had everyone in tears. If you haven't heard it before, bring out the tissues.

I read a note my Grandma wrote back in 1923
Grandpa kept it in his coat, and he showed it once to me
He said, "Boy, you might not understand, but a long, long time ago,
Grandma's daddy didn't like me none, but I love your Grandma so.

We had this crazy plan to meet and run away together
Get married in the first town we came to and live forever
But nailed to the tree where we were supposed to meet instead
I found this letter, and this is what it said :

"If you get there before I do
Don't give up on me
I'll meet you when my chores are through
I don't know how long I'll be

But I'm not gonna let you down
Darling wait and see
And between now and then
Til I see you again

I'll be loving you
Love, Me."

I read those words just hours before my Grandma passed away
In the doorway of the church where me and Grandpa stopped to pray
I know I've never seen him cry in all my fifteen years
But as he said these words to her, his eyes fill up with tears

"If you get there before I do
Don't give up on me
I'll meet you when my chores are through
I don't know how long I'll be

But I'm not gonna let you down
Darling wait and see
And between now and then
Til I see you again

I'll be loving you
Love, Me."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Most Reliable Car Study, Mini Is Last

Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2011 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study SM

Reliability survey ranks Mini last, with Porsche pipped from the top spot.

Mini is the least reliable brand of car you can buy, according to a new US long-term dependability report.

The 2011 JD Power survey reveals the BMW-owned British brand experienced more problems with its vehicles than any other manufacturer in the US during the past 12 months.

The US-based report measures the number of problems per 100 cars that owners experience during the first three years of ownership – meaning the lower the number, the better the reliability.

Mini ranked last with 221 issues per 100 cars despite an overall increase in dependability rankings - more than double the issues of the Ford-owned Lincoln (101 per 100 cars) that became the first American luxury brand to top the list in more than a decade.

Mini’s parent company improved marginally from 165 to 164 issues, but BMW’s result was inferior to those of its closest rivals and below the industry average of 155 problems per 100 cars.

Mercedes-Benz scored 128 (down from 142) and was the best of the big three premium German brands, with Audi reducing its issues from 182 to 161 compared with 2010.

Luxury brands otherwise dominated the top four positions. Lexus placed second with 109 issues, while Jaguar leapt into third place after cutting its number of issues by nearly a third – up from 175 to 112.

Porsche, last year’s leader, slipped to fourth place in 2011 after its problems rose from 110 to 114.

Mainstream manufacturers also increased their reported reliability in the survey in which 25 of the 36 brands monitored offered improved reliability compared with last year's rankings .

With pre-accelerator-fiasco models from Toyota ranking fifth (122, down from 128); while Hyundai grabbed 10th spot with 132 (down from 148) and sister company Kia jumped up one spot to 20th with 160 reported problems (down from 167).

Volkswagen continued to disappoint despite improving from 225 to 191 issues, while Japanese maker Honda slipped from 7th to 11th, with issues increasing from 132 to 139.

Despite an American brand topping the list, other US makers did not fare so well. Chrysler (202) and Dodge (206) both fell further down the rankings (where they scored 166 and 190 respectively), while Jeep still ranked second last, despite improving with a score of 214 (down from 222).

Land Rover again fared poorly, ranking third last with a score of 212, although that score was a marked improvement on 2010's result of 255.

There were 202 "problem sypmtoms" addressed in the survey, which relied on information from 43,700 owners of 2008 model cars.

As Drive has previously reported, JD Power has been working unsuccessfully towards publishing an Australian vehicle quality study for more than a decade.

The research company says local manufacturers are not willing to allow the information to be made public despite their American parent companies allowing US findings to be published.

Gimme A Long Black Please

I love my coffee, be it from Starbucks, Illy's, Ipoh white coffee, Vietnam's drip style... they are all good. According to Mercer's 2010 cost of living survey, a cup of coffee is about $8 in Moscow, $7 in Tokyo or Paris and $4 in New York. Cash-strapped caffeine lovers should head to Buenos Aires or Johannesburg for a cheaper cup, where it is about $2.20. Here in Malaysia, its about $2.00 on average (we are using USD for all prices here). In Australia its about $3.00.

You can say that coffee at these western establishments are really a ripoff. That's why your grandma knows better. Ever try bringing your grandma for a cuppa at Starbucks, she would vomit blood at the prices. Can't blame her cause her cuppa is only $0.50 ... how in hell do we end up paying 6x. Even white coffee cost only $0.60-0.70 and thats pretty good latte already.

But, its not easy to operate a coffee place really. The diagram beloiw depicts where the money goes to for every $3.00 cup of coffee in Australia.


Yes, the reality is, for places like Starbucks and Coffee Bean, their cost of coffee beans is very low as they buy in bulk and can dictate prices somewhat. Their average cost is RM1.00 per shot. What we end up paying for is the logistics, labour, setup, couches, etc... which is also why you would NEVER find these places serving you good premium milk as the bloody milk cost as much as the beans. I like mine black, long black or americano, if I have to put milk, then please make it Farm House milk.


Beans comprise less than a fifth of the price of a cup of coffee, but the cost of labour and milk are putting added pressure on margins. Even when they make $0.45 per cup, you still have to depreciate a lot of other costs such as rent, fittings, shop design etc... so thats why they need to open stores in the thousands to make it a genuine business model.

Which is why, it makes so much sense to buy a Nespresso machine, they cost between RM1,200-RM2,000 depending on the model but the machine is long lasting and every shot is perfect. On average each shot cost RM2.00 and you can froth your own premium milk as well. Each cup saves you RM3.00 at least. If you are like me, drinking at least 2-3 cups a day, thats a savings of RM10 a day or RM300 a month. You pay for the machine within 5 months, and I have mine for more than 2 years already (actually 4 years old). My Nespresso was actually second hand, I bought from my friend when he wanted to upgrade to a nicer version, so I got mine for RM700.


Plus you get to choose from so many variety beans by Nespresso and you don't have to worry about grinding, keeping ground beans fresh, etc... Thats why most 5 star hotels now use Nespresso machines, they make so much more money and its a lot less hassle.



p/s not paid by Nespresso to do this posting... btw, an interesting fact, the "brain chip board" inside most Nespresso machines are made by Uchi Tech...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Musicals To See Before You Die

Here is my list in order of preference, the musicals one should see before they die. Its a good list to take with you when you retire or have the time and money to indulge. At any one time, I think Broadway would have at least 1/3 of the shows below still running or reprised.

My Fair Lady
Les Miserables
Phantom of The Opera
La Cage aux Folles
West Side Story
The Sound of Music
The King & I
Sunday In The Park With George
Sweeney Todd
South Pacific
A Little Night Music
Funny Girl
The Lion King
Mamma Mia
The Jersey Boys
The Producers
Guys & Dolls
Porgy & Bess
Finian's Rainbow
Little Shop of Horrors
Fiddler on The Roof
Into The Woods
A Chorus Line
Young Frankenstein
The Music Man
How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Hello, Dolly!

Musicals are know for their showstopper tunes. I have included a few that stuck:

The showstopper in Les Miserables, Do You Hear The People Sing?, was absolutely marvellous in the musical, it was grand, rousing ... makes me think maybe some people in a certain country could use it very well (don't mention names la). I can very well imagine the majority of the public singing this song, wouldn't that be loverly?

The showstopper in La Cage aux Folles, I Am What I Am, where the drag queen displays his bitterness at being sidelined by his son because of his being a drag queen. Its a powerful song which speaks for self actualisation, confidence in our own choices in life.

The brilliant showstopper, Defying Gravity, in Wicked (a genius prequel to The Wizard of Oz story, you will look at the Wizard and the Witch differently after the show). Have to click on link as they won't let me embed this one.


This next showstopper was at the end of the musical Carousel, a rousing number which later some silly football club stole it and regarded it as their birthright.

Finally, I had to feature this by Colm Wilkinson, whom I think has the best male voice on the musical stage now. He sings Bring Him Home from Les Mis, as he was praying for the life of his daughter's love. Its easily better than I Dreamed A Dream from the same musical.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who The Heck Is Stephen Sondheim?

If you read my interest in my bio, I list musicals as one of them, actually I love musicals so much I might be a bit gay. Its unfortunate we do not get much of that sub-culture being in Asia because musicals are so much fun. The storylines and songs are better because they all have a backdrop. When conversing with friends who also said they love musicals, when I mention Stephen Sondheim, not many would know what he had done.


The first layer of musical 101 would be loving to bits The Sound of Music, The King & I , West Side Story (Bernstein / Laurents) and My Fair Lady. If you did not dig beyond that, you have a whole treasure trove to unearth. The ones behind some of the greatest musicals had to be

Rodgers & Hammerstein:
The King & I
The Sound of Music
Flower Drum Song
South Pacific

Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe:
My Fair Lady

Stephen Sondheim basically was the musical force in the 1970s-2000s, though many would not have the chance to view all his works. His major works include:

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum
Sunday In Park With George

His more popular ones:

Sweeney Todd
Into The Woods
A Little Night Music

His music and lyrics were made for the theatre, I don't think he could write a song on its own. He thrives in the story, the settings, the characters, the nuances ... and although his music compositions are sublime, its his lyrics that sets him apart from the humdrum. Musicals usually have a light hearted feel about everything, until he came along and broke the mould. Emotional, cynical, sarcasm, morbidity ... all enveloped with his brilliant comic timing and honing in on the underlying scarred feelings of his characters.

Here, I would like to feature just a few songs from his repertoire:

Send In The Clowns, plenty of people loved the song, but may have misconstrued the deeper meanings to the lyrics. Its not about circus clowns. The lyrics "up in midair" may have misled many thinking there is a trapeze artist about. This is easily Sondheim's best composition, more so for his lyrics. It was from the musical A Little Night Music, another under rated musical. I shall not bore you with the background of what the musical was about. The song is bitterly sad, sung by one who is middle aged, who has had her share of adventure and the good life, and a few relationships. It was unrequited love twice. Once when she was young and wanted to do her stuff, now she is older and knows what she wants, but he is not available anymore. The lyrics are heart wrenching and gut bursting.

Why then send in the clowns? When you are in an intimate conversation with your loved one and things got so awkward, not knowing what else to say and high-strung, you wanted something to fill the dead air, a tension breaker ... so send in the clowns. Which is all the more poignant when Sondheim ended one of the chorus with "don't bother they're here" meaning to mock themselves as the clowns are the two of them in fact. ... and the best versions would be by Bernedette Peters and believe it or not, Judi Dench.

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns.

Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines,
No one is there.

Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer,
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.

We have all heard the song Somewhere, a very beautiful soaring heartfelt tune, but the lyrics completes the masterpiece. On its own its a feel good song, but in the context of West Side Story it was the yearning for all the down trodden for a place and time where equality and fairness are for everyone. Guess what, the music was by Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics by Sondheim, that was before he embarked on writing full musicals on his own. ... and nobody sings that song better than Barbra Striesand.

There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us

There's a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to look, time to care,
We'll find a new way of living,
We'll find a way of forgiving

There's a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're half way there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there


This following song was from the morbid Sweeney Todd, yes most would know that movie musical starring Johnny Depp, but it was a huge musical success for Stephen Sondheim. In the musical, the song is sung amidst a lot of killings and cannabalism, Sondheim fleshed out the motivations of two deluded souls who can still be around each other despite them being crazed killers. ... again its Barbra that does it justice.

Nothing's gonna harm you, not while I'm around.
Nothing's gonna harm you, no sir, not while I'm around.

Demons are prowling everywhere, nowadays,
I'll send 'em howling,
I don't care, I got ways.

No one's gonna hurt you,
No one's gonna dare.
Others can desert you,
Not to worry, whistle, I'll be there.

Demons'll charm you with a smile, for a while,
But in time...
Nothing can harm you
Not while I'm around...

Being close and being clever
Ain't like being true
I don't need to,
I would never hide a thing from you,
Like some...

No one's gonna hurt you, no one's gonna dare
Others can desert you,
Not to worry, whistle, I'll be there!
Demons'll charm you with a smile, for a while
But in time...
Nothing can harm you
Not while I'm around...

Lastly, another song from Sweeney Todd, Pretty Women ... combined with The Ladies Who Lunch from the musical Company. Putting the two songs together was a great idea, sung by Barbra again. About pretty women who have too much time on their hands. You get an idea of how brilliant Sondheim is as a lyricist, and the music is spectacular of course. On their own, the songs are very good but they are even more textured when viewed and listened as part of a musical.

Pretty women
Sipping coffee,
Dancing... pretty women
Pretty women
Are a wonder.
Pretty women!

Sitting in the window or
Standing on the stair
Something in them cheers the air.

Pretty women
Stay within you,
Glancing... stay forever,
Breathing lightly...
Pretty women,
Pretty women!

Blowing out their candles or
Combing out their hair,
Even when they leave
They still are there.
They're there

Ah! Pretty women, at their mirrors,
In their gardens,
How they make a man sing!

Proof of heaven as you're living,
Pretty women! Yes, pretty women!
Here's to pretty women,
Pretty women,
Pretty women,
Pretty women

Here's to the ladies who lunch--
Everybody laugh.
Lounging in their caftans
And planning a brunch
On their own behalf.
Off to the gym,
Then to a fitting,
Claiming they're fat.
And looking grim,
'Cause they've been sitting
Choosing a hat.
I'll drink to that.

And here's to the girls who just watch--
Aren't they the best?
When they get depressed
Its a bottle of scotch,
Plus a little jest.
Another chance to disapprove,
Another brilliant zinger,
Another reason not to move
Another vodka stinger

I'll drink to that.

And here's to the girls who play wife--
Aren't they too much?
Keeping house but clutching
A copy of LIFE,
Just to keep in touch.
The ones who follow the rules,
And meet themselves at the schools,
Too busy to know that they're fools.
Aren't they a gem?
I'll drink to them!
Let's all drink to them!

So here's to the girls on the go--
Everybody tries.
Look into their eyes,
And you'll see what they know:
Everybody dies.
A toast to that invincible bunch,
The dinosaurs surviving the crunch.
Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch--
Everybody rise!
Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise! Rise!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Five Millionth Readership

Well, reached the first milestone of five millionth page views. It was slow in the first year, to think I was so happy 5 years back to even see just 200 readers a day. Now its 4,500-6,000 visitors or 5,500-8,000 page views a day depending on the markets, lol, its a real sign, if its down the markets are down, and vice versa.

Something to celebrate I think. Considering its just Malaysia mainly. Sigh ... if it was an American blog, I guess I could be multiplying that 10x, then maybe can really monetise it.

So, anyone wants to buy this site for RM5m???

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Facebook, Groupon and now Zynga

How to sell nothing and get people to buy nothing for a lot of money? Can you call it nothing. We are talking of Farmville and their creators. Its Zynga and its now worth $7bn-9bn thanks to all you game addicts. ... "oohh, see my lovely crops ... I have baked a pie ... I need a shovel" ... yea, shovel this.

Farmville ... where you buy a little piece of make believe.

Farmville ... where you buy a little piece of make believe.

Sydney Morning Herald:

Mark Pincus has amassed a $US1 billion fortune selling bits and bytes that have no intrinsic value to an army of virtual farmers and city planners. Every month, 275 million people sign on to one of Pincus's addictive games, paying real money to buy virtual seeds and crops in Farmville, to construct fake buildings in CityVille or to expand their criminal empires in Mafia Wars.

Pioneers of the "virtual goods" market, Pincus's company Zynga - just three years old - earned $850 million in revenue last year and is now valued at between $US7 billion and $US9 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Mark Pincus, founder of San Francisco-based Zynga, creator of FarmVille.

Mark Pincus, founder of San Francisco-based Zynga, creator of FarmVille

It's not a new phenomenon. For years people have been spending real money to buy their own virtual islands and toys in the online world Second Life , while others have spent thousands on rare items in online games such as World of Warcraft. Last year, a virtual space station in Entropia Universe sold for $US330,000.

But with Zynga, virtual goods have hit the mainstream, with everyone from stay-at-home mums to university students shelling out big for intangible items. The immense success of his virtual empire has seen Pincus join the Forbes Billionaires List this year with a net worth of $US1 billion.

'Who would pay for non-existent things?'

If you can't understand why anyone would pay real money for fake goods, you're not alone. Even Gigi Wang, chair emeritus of MIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) - which connects high-tech entrepreneurs with investors, technologists and venture capitalists - initially dismissed the idea.

"When I heard about virtual goods several years ago, I just thought it was stupid. Who would pay for non-existent things?" Wang told Fairfax Media's Digital Directions conference last week.

But then Wang discovered that Farmville players were spending $US100 million a year on virtual tractors, seeds and animals. She cited research estimating that in the US alone the virtual goods market overall will reach $US2.1 billion this year. Now Wang herself is a virtual goods convert, having recently spent $US30 on boosts in the game Bejeweled Blitz.

It's an enviable business model, as the marginal cost of producing an additional virtual tractor or sword costs the virtual goods companies virtually nothing, allowing for huge margins. It's become such a lucrative market that some buy virtual real estate as investments, while others hire armies of people working in sweatshop conditions to farm for virtual gold, which can then be traded for real money.

Facebook is further fuelling the growth of virtual goods with its currency called "Facebook Credits", which can be bought using credit cards and are spent within Facebook apps.

The legal issues thrown up by virtual goods have been far from intangible. Last year four virtual property owners sued Second Life developer Linden Lab for giving them the false impression that they actually owned their online holdings. In 2009, Taser International sued Linden Lab for allowing players to sell virtual tasers. But the case was dismissed after changes were made to remove Taser's trademarks.

Hundreds of millions of players

The AppData.com website reveals that city-building simulation CityVille and Farmville - available through Facebook or mobile apps - have 93 million and just under 50 million monthly users, respectively, making them the top two apps worldwide.

A spin off of Farmville set in the US old west rather than on a farm, FrontierVille, has just under 19 million users and Mafia Wars has a little less than 13 million.

A Sydneysider, who wished to be known only as Kim, 49, said she used to spend hours every day on Farmville and Cityville but recently was forced to cut down. She has so far avoided spending real money on the game but has invested countless hours of her time.

"At the moment I've had to cut down because I ended up actually getting myself tendonitis in my arm," she said in a phone interview.

Sign of a dotcom bubble?

Some have suggested that Zynga's huge multi-billion-dollar valuation is evidence of a new dotcom bubble that is almost certain to burst. Adding further fuel to this view is skyrocketing valuations of Facebook and Twitter, which are pegged at $US65 billion and $US10 billion ,respectively.

But Sydney-based Niki Scevak, an entrepreneur who created real-estate site Homethinking.com, has been following industry developments for some time and is convinced this is not the case.

The last dotcom boom and bust just over a decade ago saw very young companies going public early, with little revenues to show for their huge valuations. This time around, finance is coming from private means and the valuations are justified by giant revenue streams.

"Facebook and Zynga generate large amounts of cash, while growing at huge growth rates at scale," said Scevak, who is also the driving force behind Sydney tech entrepreneur mentorship program Startmate.

"There isn't a lot of cash being burnt (Groupon, Facebook and Zynga aren't even using [investors'] money to fund normal operations, it's for existing shareholders to sell out or for acquiring other companies), companies are staying private longer than they did and traditional internet firms are trading a bargain prices. If you want a bubble then take a look at Australian housing!"

Croatia - (Zagreb-Split-Hvar-Dubrovnik-Prague) #1

Why Croatia? The decision to go to Croatia was taken way before they fared so well in the World Cup, for a population of just 4.5m. If you ...